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Monday, December 24, 2012
Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

By Kevin Seifert

After the Minnesota Vikings' 23-6 victory over the Houston Texans, here are three issues that merit further examination:
  1. Free Head Exam
    I agree with Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. Sunday was the most impressive defensive performance from this team in a long time. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams hasn't gotten enough credit for returning this group to the aggressive, play-making style that characterized its best years under former coordinators Mike Tomlin and Leslie Frazier. One way to measure that aggressiveness is to note the Vikings hit Texans running back Arian Foster behind the line of scrimmage on six of his 10 rushes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Foster totaled minus-four yards before first contact in the game. That's a fancy way of illustrating that the Vikings' backfield penetration gave him nowhere to run. Even before the game, the Vikings ranked sixth in the NFL in percentage of runs (18.7) in which they hit the opposing runner behind the line of scrimmage.
  2. There have been some complaints from fans this season that quarterback Christian Ponder is too quick to leave the pocket and run. Sunday's game showed there is a fine line between asking him to stay in the pocket and letting him use his obvious running ability. Ponder converted two critical third downs with runs of 29 and 21 yards, capitalizing on the Texans' man-to-man defense to exploit openings in the field. With all players, it makes sense to emphasize what they are good at and minimize the things they are not. Getting Ponder in the open field, either on rollouts or scrambles, makes a lot of sense. Sunday, it clearly got Ponder in a groove. He completed four passes that traveled 15 or more yards in the air, matching his total in his previous seven games combined.
  3. I thought it was worth pointing out a really classy series of tweets from former place-kicker Ryan Longwell, whom the Vikings released shortly after drafting Blair Walsh in the spring. Longwell hasn't surfaced with a team this season and seems to have moved on from football altogether. But after seeing Walsh break the NFL record for field goals of at least 50 yards in a season (nine), Longwell tweeted: "I've purposely not commented on any football stuff this entire year so let me make my first one now. I've seen many great seasons go unrewarded by not getting voted to Pro Bowl. But if @BlairWalsh3 does not get voted in this year it will prove system is broke! What more can the guy do?? Accuracy, 9-9 50+ yarders, Kickoff touchbacks and a game winner in his first career game!!" Indeed, Walsh is tied for second in the NFL with 32 field goals (in 35 attempts). He ranks sixth in the NFL in conversion percentage (91.4), but only two of the place-kickers ahead of him play for NFC teams. Finally, Walsh ranks third in touchback percentage (62.0).
And here is one issue I still don't get:
For a team to pull off the kind of wall-to-wall upset the Vikings did, it needs some unexpected contributions. None was more surprising than seeing defensive tackle Fred Evans drag down quarterback Matt Schaub for a 14-yard loss on third-and-goal in the third quarter. Evans has been a solid role player for the Vikings for six seasons. But before Sunday, he had two sacks in 77 career games. He picked a pretty good time for what was probably the biggest play of his professional career. The Texans couldn't even consider going for it on fourth down after such a big loss. How was it that Fred Evans, of all people, was the reason why? The universe can be an inexplicable place.