NFC North: Frank Walker

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 31, 2010
Getting inside our final (sniff, sniff) Friday injury report of the 2010 regular season:

Chicago Bears: As usual, the Bears are almost completely healthy. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) was removed from the injury report, leaving only receiver Earl Bennett. He is listed as questionable because of an ankle injury. Because the Bears have already locked up a first-round bye, it might be smart to rest Bennett against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Detroit Lions: Receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle) did not practice all week but is listed as questionable on the injury report for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Coach Jim Schwartz indicated Johnson will test out the ankle Sunday morning before a final decision is made. Cornerback Chris Houston (shoulder) is listed as doubtful and seems unlikely to play. All other players should be available for the Lions.

Green Bay Packers: Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) has again been ruled out, but the Packers expect to have nickel back Sam Shields for Sunday's game. Shields (knee) returned to practice Friday, took his normal repetitions and is listed as probable on the injury report. Jenkins joins safety Atari Bigby (groin), linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) and fullback Korey Hall (knee) as players already ruled out of this game. Everyone else should be available for the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback Brett Favre once again didn't practice because of a concussion and is listed as doubtful. But interim coach Leslie Frazier wouldn't say whether Favre has been cleared to play Sunday, raising the possibility that he could make one final start. Take that for what you will. Meanwhile, receiver Sidney Rice (concussion) is also listed as doubtful and almost certainly won't play. Cornerback Asher Allen (abdomen) didn't practice all week but is listed as questionable. If he can't play, the Vikings would have to start either Lito Sheppard or Frank Walker opposite of Antoine Winfield. Safety Madieu Williams (concussion) was placed on injured reserve so the Vikings could promote cornerback Marcus Sherels from the practice squad.

Wrap-up: Vikings 24, Eagles 14

December, 28, 2010
A few thoughts on a stunning outcome -- Vikings 24, Eagles 14 -- Tuesday night at Lincoln Financial Stadium:

What it means: Not to take anything away from the Minnesota Vikings, but the most significant result of this game was that the Chicago Bears clinched the NFC's No. 2 seed and a coveted first-round bye in the 2010 playoffs. That said, I for one thought there was no chance the Vikings would play an inspired game after mailing in their two previous appearances and then sitting in a Philadelphia hotel for two extra days. Credit to them for rediscovering their focus and, in the process, winning a prime-time cold-weather game for only the second time in the past 20 seasons.

Could have been worse: Yes, the only thing more surprising than the Vikings' victory was that it could have been more decisive. Vikings defensive backs Lito Sheppard, Frank Walker and Jamarca Sanford all dropped interceptions in the first half.

FrazierWatch: Will this victory be enough for interim coach Leslie Frazier to earn the permanent job? We could be days away from finding out the answer.

WebbWatch: Did anyone -- anyone -- envision rookie quarterback Joe Webb outdueling the Eagles' Michael Vick, arguably the best player in the NFL this season? I won't pretend to have believed it possible. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell joked earlier this month that Webb is so raw that he doesn't know what he doesn't know. Perhaps it was rookie naiveté, but Webb looked like a calm, precise and in-control West Coast quarterback from the start. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 195 yards, making two nice downfield throws to receiver Percy Harvin (for 46 and 19 yards) and also made a nifty 9-yard run down the right sideline for a touchdown. If nothing else, Webb gave the Vikings an interesting tape to review and evaluate this offseason.

Stopping Vick: Minutes before the game, I caught a taped radio interview with Frazier. Asked what the Vikings would do to defend against Vick, Frazier pledged to get a man "in his face" on as many plays as possible. Anecdotally, the Vikings blitzed more than I've seen them in any game this year. (I'll search for the specific figures Wednesday.) The Eagles had no answer for the corner blitz from Antoine Winfield, who had two of the Vikings' six sacks and ran 45 yards for a touchdown after forcing Vick to fumble in the second quarter. Vick appeared to be limping throughout the game and his passes were off-target for the most part.

Let's not forget: The NFC North went 3-1 against the Eagles this season and were four points away from a sweep. The Eagles' only victory over the division was a 35-32 thriller over the Detroit Lions in Week 2.

All Tuesday Night: Tailback Adrian Peterson returned from a one-game absence to run for 118 yards. He lost his first fumble of the season on a play I was surprised Frazier didn't challenge, but otherwise had an extra gear for much of the night.

What's next: The Vikings will travel to Ford Field to play the Detroit Lions in a game to determine the No. 3 position in the NFC North.

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 26, 2010
Getting inside a pretty light Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Nada. That's right. The Bears listed no players on their final injury report of the week. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) was removed, meaning all 53 players will be available for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The biggest injury question of this game is whether Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel (knee) will be able to play. He is officially listed as questionable but didn't practice all week.

Green Bay Packers: Safety Atari Bigby (hamstring) had already been ruled out. Safety Anthony Smith (ankle) was listed as doubtful, so it's likely the Packers will enter Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons with three healthy safeties. Jarrett Bush would be the primary backup to starters Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah. All other players should be available.

Minnesota Vikings: Receivers Sidney Rice (hip) and Bernard Berrian (groin) are listed as questionable. But interim coach Leslie Frazier said Rice "is going to be fine" for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins. Berrian's status will be determined Saturday. Cornerback Chris Cook (knee) was added to the injury report and listed as questionable. If he can't play, the Vikings probably would use Frank Walker at nickel and Lito Sheppard in the dime.

Deactivations from around the NFC North

November, 14, 2010
CHICAGO -- There were no huge surprises among the game-day deactivations just announced in the Soldier Field press box.

Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin (migraines) will play and is in the starting lineup. Cornerback Asher Allen (concussion) is inactive and will be replaced by rookie Chris Cook. Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker will rotate in the nickel. That's a good matchup for the Chicago Bears.

The Bears will be without cornerback Zack Bowman (foot) for another week, but otherwise are at full strength.

In Buffalo, meanwhile, the Detroit Lions announced that left end Cliff Avril won't play against the Bills. Turk McBride will replace him in the starting lineup. Also, Amari Spievey will again replace injured safety C.C. Brown.
The Green Bay Packers' decision to release cornerback Al Harris was "not a physical decision," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. Instead, McCarthy said, "this is a big-picture roster decision."

Translation: The Packers didn't have much use for a reserve cornerback who wouldn't be a special-teams contributor and might hinder the development of a younger player.

Harris obviously wasn't going to reclaim his starting job from Tramon Williams, and the Packers like what they've seen from rookie nickel back Sam Shields. So at best, Harris would have been the Packers' dime back assuming everyone ahead of him remained healthy.

Every team has its own philosophy in roster building, and the Packers lie on one extreme of the spectrum. Whether you like it or not, the Packers almost always use young players to fill out the back end of the roster in hopes they will one day develop into starters. That pipeline produced Williams, Shields, linebacker Desmond Bishop and others.

Teams rarely turn loose good cornerbacks, however, so you have to wonder if McCarthy wasn't just being nice when he said he has "no doubts" that Harris can still play. Remember, Harris suffered a much worse knee injury a year ago than originally believed. But if the Packers truly do believe Harris can still play, then they are a rare team which has jettisoned a cornerback who is at least serviceable because he doesn't fit their roster profile. Moreover, they were willing to overlook last season's personnel disaster at the position in making this move.

If you recall, the Packers lost Harris, Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee and Will Blackmon to season-ending injuries and entered the playoffs with a patchwork group. Even an aging Harris would have some value this season if they experienced another personnel shortage.

"We feel this is the best path for us," McCarthy said. "There is a lot of different variables involved, and those were all discussed. ... The course we've taken, particularly at corner and the whole secondary, all the players involved, the other responsibilities that the players also have, this is the decision we made."

Like all veteran players released after the trading deadline, Harris is now subject to waivers. He told Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he believes he could land with an NFC North team.

The Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings all have varying needs for a cornerback. The Lions might be the most needy, and they have the best position among division teams on the waiver wire. It's also worth nothing that Harris and Vikings quarterback Brett Favre remain close friends. Let's take a closer team-by-team look:

Chicago Bears

Starter Charles Tillman has been struggling, and the Bears could move to a rotation situation when Zack Bowman (foot) returns to the field. But with Tim Jennings starting on one side and D.J. Moore providing strong depth, the Bears are pretty well set at both spots. *Update: Coach Lovie Smith said Monday he is pleased with his current depth.

Detroit Lions

Starter Chris Houston dislocated his shoulder Sunday against the New York Jets, and the Lions have banished former starter Jonathan Wade to the dime position. Alphonso Smith is starting at one position on the other side, and on Sunday, Brandon McDonald was serving in the nickel role. The Lions have been relying on Nate Vasher for depth, but Harris would certainly be an upgrade over Vasher.

Minnesota Vikings

Starter Cedric Griffin is out for the season, and teams have picked on replacement Asher Allen. Rookie nickel back Chris Cook has been uneven, and the Vikings have two veteran free-agent pickups -- Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker -- playing in the dime. Based on that depth, Harris could start or at least play nickel for the Vikings. *Update: Coach Brad Childress said Monday that "I don't know if there is a spot for us right now in that area."

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

October, 25, 2010
After the Minnesota Vikings' 28-24 loss Sunday at the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Coach Brad Childress offered some raw criticism for quarterback Brett Favre after he threw three interceptions and admitted he was one failed drive away from pulling him from the game. Childress is to speak to reporters Monday afternoon, but I can't imagine there is a scenario where he would leave open the possibility of benching Favre for next Sunday's game against the New England Patriots. I realize Favre is dealing with a re-injured ankle, but he has time to heal. It's true that Favre's 10 interceptions ties him for the NFL high, even after only five games. But the Vikings literally begged Favre to play one more season and are paying him $16 million to do it. If they're going to go down, it has to be with Favre behind center.
  2. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their loss against Green Bay, the Vikings take their turn in the examination room.

  3. I've never been one to harp on officiating calls during the course of a game, so we'll just say that two of the more questionable instances both went against the Vikings in scoring situations. They definitely have an argument on Andrew Quarless' touchdown reception in the second quarter; replays showed him losing control of the ball as he landed on his back. I also have to agree with Childress on what appeared to be a clean 17-yard touchdown reception by tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Ultimately, however, complaining about officiating calls is a loser's lament. The Vikings had plenty of other opportunities to win that game, and the Packers could probably find instances where they felt an official's call went against them.
  4. As we noted earlier Monday, the Vikings took some interesting steps to protect a secondary that has lost starter Cedric Griffin for the season and had shaky rookie Chris Cook at nickelback. Cook eventually had to be benched and replaced by Frank Walker, and the Packers looked like they were trying to target Walker and second-year cornerback Asher Allen. Ultimately, they were forced to pull up their pass rush and hope that Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Ray Edwards could help shut down the short- and intermediate game by blocking the passing lanes. Eventually, they slowed down the Packers. Rodgers threw for 227 yards in the first half but managed only 52 the rest of the way.
And here is one issue I don't get:
I'll never understand why the Vikings don't make a distinction between their third-down offense and their 2-minute offense. I'm fine if tailback Adrian Peterson isn't on the field for every third down, but I can't see how it makes sense to take him off the field for any part of a game-ending drive to score what would be a winning touchdown. But Peterson was off the field for third- and fourth-down plays on the Vikings' final drive, giving way to rookie Toby Gerhart. Nothing against Gerhart, but when a division game is on the line, you can't outsmart yourself. You need your best players on the field at all times.

It should be noted that the Minnesota Vikings failed to sack Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night after bringing him down 14 times in two games last season. How did it happen? As the chart from ESPN Stats & Information shows, the Vikings mostly stayed back in coverage -- rushing four or fewer players on 27 of Rodgers' 37 dropbacks.

They also manually slowed down their defensive linemen to help their injury-depleted secondary cover the Packers' short and intermediate routes. Defensive end Jared Allen intercepted one screen pass and tipped another, and defensive tackle Kevin Williams also batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

"At times they weren't even rushing," Rodgers said. "They were more content with kind of standing at the line of scrimmage and really jumping. When you can slow down two great rushers like that, that's a good thing for us."

Rodgers was quick to note the Packers also did "a nice job of blocking" but saw a strategic purpose as well. The Vikings are playing without starting cornerback Cedric Griffin, and rookie nickelback Chris Cook was benched in favor of Frank Walker in the first half.

"With the personnel they were playing in the secondary," Rodgers said, "I think they were trying to really guard against some of the quick timing throws we have."

Matthews, Pickett active for Packers

October, 24, 2010
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers will have linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (ankle) for Sunday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings. That's the headline for the pre-game inactive list for both teams.

To no surprise, right tackle Mark Tauscher is inactive, meaning rookie Bryan Bulaga will start his third consecutive game.

For the Vikings, cornerback Lito Sheppard was deactivated to make room for rookie cornerback Chris Cook, who returns after missing two weeks with a knee injury. The Vikings will start Asher Allen opposite Antoine Winfield, with Cook serving as the nickel. Newcomer Frank Walker would play in the dime if necessary.

Tyrell Johnson will start at strong safety for Husain Abdullah (concussion).

BBAO: Jared Allen's disappearing act

October, 15, 2010
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Where has Jared Allen been this year? Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press pursues that question Friday after noting Allen, the NFL's sack leader since the start of the 2004 season, has one sack in the Minnesota Vikings' first four games.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier suggested teams "pay a great deal of attention to him" and added: "He's going to have a bust-out game, and hopefully it will be this weekend. He's not a disappointment by any means." Allen, meanwhile, told Sansevere that he's been close on a half-dozen.
Allen: "You could count four, five, six, maybe. Look at the Detroit game. I would have had two in the Miami game. That half-step, that half-second, is huge. Huge! There's always what ifs, but eventually it comes back. They seem to come in spurts."

It's true that Allen's 29 sacks in two previous seasons with the Vikings have often come in spurts. And it's true that offenses generally can gameplan to take one player out of any game, and perhaps that's why the rest of the Vikings defense has played well all season.

But here's the bottom line: An All-Pro defensive end has to make big plays at some point, regardless of how offenses are approaching him. I don't think anyone is going to be satisfied if Allen gets to the end of the season with a couple sacks and attributes it to being "close" and constant double-teams. Would you?

Continuing around the NFC North: