NFC North: Lito Sheppard

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
4:20
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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
12/28/10
11:39
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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 Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
1:00
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» NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

The Chicago Bears were on their heels. The Minnesota Vikings, behind surprise starter Brett Favre, had taken a 7-3 lead and were threatening to make it difficult for the Bears to clinch the NFC North title on a snowy Monday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Bears took over near midfield for their third possession and immediately started moving backward. Left guard Chris Williams was penalized for illegal use of hands. Center Olin Kreutz was called for holding. Suddenly, the Bears faced a first-and-30 play from their 33-yard line.

There aren't many plays designed to get you out of that mess, especially for a Bears team that has succeeded almost exclusively with the short passing game. Entering Monday night's game, quarterback Jay Cutler had attempted only 13 passes that traveled 30 or more yards in the air. None had gone for touchdowns.

There is a first time for everything, of course. The Vikings sent their standard pass rush against the Bears' three-receiver set. The offensive line protected Cutler long enough to pump-fake toward receiver Johnny Knox, who already had a step on cornerback Lito Sheppard and was running near the right sideline.

Cutler hit Knox in stride at the Vikings' 32-yard line, capitalizing on a poor angle from safety Madieu Williams for a wide-open 67-yard touchdown. The score gave the Bears a 10-7 lead they would not relinquish on the way to the NFC North title.

"We had some stuff going on early," Cutler said. "We knew what type of defense they were going to be in. We had a good feel for them up front. We were able to mix in some runs. We had a good game plan. I'm glad we were able to execute as well as we were."

The play was obviously a decisive moment in the game, but it was also important to put on tape for the Bears' future playoff opponent -- lest anyone sleep on the Bears' dormant but potential-filled downfield passing game.

BBAO: The future of Leslie Frazier

December, 2, 2010
12/02/10
7:20
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

As the Minnesota Vikings move into Week 2 of the Leslie Frazier era, some are already wondering what it will take for owner Zygi Wilf to give him the job for next year and beyond.

Frazier, who won Sunday in his debut as interim coach, now has three consecutive home games to pad his record, starting with this weekend's game against the Buffalo Bills. What would it take? A 3-3 record in his six-game stint? 4-2? 5-1? Has Wilf already decided to open the job to other candidates? Does he know he will hire Frazier regardless, considering the NFL's financial uncertainty in 2011?

Via Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, Frazier said he hasn't spoken to Wilf about those questions and "I don't intend to." He added: "I really want to concentrate on the Buffalo Bills and what we've got to get done to win this game, and those things will take care of themselves."

As Pelissero points out, Frazier has made a habit of speaking to a group of veteran players after practice. "Being able to manage people is paramount in the role that I'm in," Frazier said.

It's an especially important task on a veteran team like the Vikings.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Vikings quarterback Brett Favre reiterated that "I'm done" after this season. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune has more.
  • Vikings cornerback Lito Sheppard, who has struggled this season, told Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that it's tough when coaches bench him so quickly for mistakes. Sheppard: "Antoine [Winfield] knows his value to the team. I know for sure anybody else can't say that in the secondary. That allows him to go out there and play comfortably, play with confidence and do what he does. For everybody else, you can't make a mistake. Otherwise you might not see the field again."
  • The Chicago Bears' offense hasn't been explosive through the passing game, notes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, via Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune: "The thing we're doing better now than we were doing in the opener against Detroit is that our guys are earning their money now when they're called upon without any help. You can't have help every play.''
  • Bears linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) sat out practice Wednesday, notes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • The legend of Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams continues to grow, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Depth at linebacker has gotten scary for the Packers, who have lost four veterans to season-ending injuries, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the game-planning quandary for Packers coach Mike McCarthy: "On Sunday when the Packers face the San Francisco 49ers, a team that has been far better against the run than it has been the pass, McCarthy will have to decide whether it's worth trying to get his stuck-in-mud running game operational again."
  • The Detroit Lions' Drew Stanton believes he is a "completely different" quarterback than he was in his first NFL start last year, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Current Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz tried to change Stanton's mechanics when both were with the Lions in 2007, notes John Niyo of the Detroit News. Stanton laughed and said "not a single one" of the changes stuck.
  • Lions quarterback Shaun Hill (fractured finger) is holding out hope he can play again this season, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
4:54
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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.

No pregame surprises at Metrodome

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
11:42
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MINNEAPOLIS -- All of the Minnesota Vikings' and Green Bay Packers' injured receivers are active and expected to play Sunday at the Metrodome.

That list includes the Vikings' Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. The Packers will also have Donald Driver, who has been limited by a quadriceps injury.

There were no real surprises on either team's inactive list. Packers fans won't get a chance to see running back James Starks or tight end Spencer Havner, both of whom are inactive. The Vikings, meanwhile, deactivated cornerback Lito Sheppard upon the return of cornerback Asher Allen (concussion).

Deactivations from around the NFC North

November, 14, 2010
11/14/10
11:39
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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."

NFC North Friday injury report

October, 29, 2010
10/29/10
4:47
PM ET
Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Detroit Lions: Linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin/ankle) and receiver Bryant Johnson (foot) and defensive end Turk McBride (ankle) are questionable. Levy has indicated he will try to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins in what would be his second start of the year. Other than quarterback Shaun Hill (arm), all other players will be available.

Green Bay Packers: Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) returned to practice Friday and has a chance to play Sunday against the New York Jets. Like defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle), he is listed as questionable. But it appears Jenkins has a better chance of playing than Pickett. Receiver Donald Driver (quad) also practiced Friday and is listed as probable. As we noted earlier, coach Mike McCarthy has already decided that cornerback Al Harris (knee) won't be activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Safety Atari Bigby (ankle) hasn't been ruled out.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback Brett Favre (foot) was listed as questionable, but his status obviously won't be determined until Sunday. The Vikings also listed cornerback Lito Sheppard (hand) and guard Chris DeGeare (ankle) as questionable, but all other players will be available.

Matthews, Pickett active for Packers

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
7:10
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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).

NFC North Friday injury report

October, 22, 2010
10/22/10
3:21
PM ET
Getting inside the Friday injury report....

Chicago Bears: Cornerback Zack Bowman (foot) is doubtful and not expected to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Guard Roberto Garza (knee) also won't play. Safety Major Wright (hamstring) is questionable, but also unlikely to play. Linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle), on the other hand, is questionable but could see some game action.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers have ruled out defensive lineman Mike Neal (shoulder) and linebacker Brady Poppinga (knee). Linebackers Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring) are questionable, but both appear on track to play Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings. The status of defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) is less clear. Right tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) is questionable, but might need another week off. Coach Mike McCarthy wouldn't tip his hand on whether cornerback Al Harris (knee) and/or safety Atari Bigby would be activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but both had strong weeks of practice.

Minnesota Vikings: Safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) has been ruled out for Sunday night's game. Jamarca Sanford or Tyrell Johnson will replace him. Cornerback Lito Sheppard (hand) is questionable, but he figured to fall a rung on the depth chart anyway with the expected return of rookie cornerback Chris Cook (knee). Cook seems likely to serve as the nickel back. Center John Sullivan is the likely starter after missing most of three games with a calf injury.

Survival of the least inept

October, 17, 2010
10/17/10
11:25
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E.J. HendersonAP Photo/Andy BlenkushE.J. Henderson's two interceptions were key in the Vikings' unlikely win over the Cowboys.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If you like to watch football, every NFL weekend is living art. If you like to see football played well, I'm sorry. You're out of luck.

I'm starting a new blog policy. Yes, I'm going to stop pointing out how ugly some of the NFC North's so-called marquee matchups have been this season. And no, it's not just because the Minnesota Vikings were the beneficiaries in Week 6 of one of the dumbest approaches I've ever seen an NFL team take. Maybe we need to recalibrate our expectations for what qualifies as a winning performance in this league.

Let's face it. The Vikings took a 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys for three reasons:

  1. Percy Harvin returned the second-half kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Vikings even after the home crowd booed them off the field at halftime.
  2. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, a strong run-stopper still rounding into shape after having a titanium rod inserted into his left leg last winter, doubled his career interception total by stepping in front of two Tony Romo passes. Those interceptions set up the Vikings' mostly anemic offense for 10 of its 17 points.
  3. The Cowboys criminally ignored their receivers' mismatch against the Vikings' injury-depleted secondary, dumping 10 passes to tailback Felix Jones. Even Vikings players admitted they were surprised. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, 24 of the Romo's 32 pass attempts traveled five yards or fewer downfield. In-ex-plicable.

In a year when "parity" is a euphemism for "no one is any good," maybe that's all it takes to win: A kickoff return, a linebacker catching two passes and an opponent unable to get out of its own way. I give some credit to coach Brad Childress for recognizing the wholly unaesthetic nature of the day's proceedings.

"It's close to migrant work," Childress said. "You go where it is every week. So we bought one more week. There is parity. All you've got to do is look."

That's pretty much all Henderson did on his interceptions. In 97 career games over nine seasons, he had managed a grand total of two interceptions. Both came in 2006. For about half of his career, the Vikings have removed him in obvious passing downs because they thought he was slow in coverage.

His first interception Sunday came after Romo bounced a pass off defensive tackle Kevin Williams' helmet. The ball sailed high in the air, where Henderson grabbed it at its lowest point and returned it to the Cowboys' 16-yard line. Even a Vikings offense that would finish with 188 total yards couldn't avoid capitalizing, driving all 16 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 7 on the final play of the first quarter.

I don't mean to diminish Henderson's performance, especially when you realize the fractured femur he suffered last December could (and maybe should) have been career-ending. Henderson isn't an emotional person, but it was still heart-warming to see him skip off the field after a second interception that was not only a smart play but also put the Vikings in position for Ryan Longwell's game-winning 38-yard field goal.

Henderson fooled Romo into thinking tight end Jason Witten would be open, taking several steps toward the line as if he were about to blitz. Recognizing the play all along, he peeled off late and snatched Romo's pass out of the air.

"Just stepped back and he threw it over the middle," Henderson said.

Said Childress: "He's a smart, smart, smart football player."

You couldn't say that about anyone in Cowboys' colors Sunday, be it player or coach. Romo threw two touchdown passes to receiver Roy E. Williams and a third to rookie Dez Bryant. Nickel back Lito Sheppard appeared to be the victim in each instance.

Were it not for injuries to cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook, Sheppard might not have even been active for this game. But even with Sheppard playing nickel and former dime back Asher Allen in a starting role, the Cowboys refused to capitalize on the mismatch.

Romo targeted Williams three times, Bryant twice and Miles Austin five times. They finished with a combined six catches. Tailback Jones, meanwhile, had 10 passes thrown his way. He caught all 10 for 61 yards.

I realize the Vikings hit Romo a few times on their opening possession. In fact, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said: "You saw them change their game plan literally in the first series after we hit him about three or four times." But come on. You give up on your best weapons for large stretches of the game because of a couple early hits?

Vikings players seemed incredulous but thankful.

"That was fine with me if they didn't want to go upfield," nose tackle Pat Williams said. "They're trying to dump and throw screens and run draws. No problem here."

"I can't say we were prepared for that," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "We hadn't expected that."

Of course they didn't. What team in its right mind would throw all day to Felix Jones when it had Roy Williams, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant matched up against an opponents' No. 3 and No. 4 cornerback??!! I'm fired up not because the Cowboys did just as much to lose this game as the Vikings did to win it. It's that the oversight seemed outrageous even in this year's NFL. I'll leave the NFC East commenting to colleague Matt Mosley, but let's just say I would consider it a fireable offense if it were the other way around.

The Vikings were far from perfect themselves, and their offense seemed stuck in lethargy for far too long Sunday. Normally, I would say I saw few encouraging long-term signs from this victory. But in the NFL circa 2010, a winning performance consists of making fewer mistakes than your opponent. That, and three big plays, were enough to send Childress' "migrant workers" home happy after a full day's work.

BBAO: Jared Allen's disappearing act

October, 15, 2010
10/15/10
7:30
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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:
The Minnesota Vikings have spent most of this season with as many injured cornerbacks as healthy ones, and that trend reached a new level Tuesday. Starter Cedric Griffin was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in his second game back since returning from the same injury to his left knee, according to multiple reports. He'll miss the rest of the season.

In the short-term, the Vikings are back to three healthy cornerbacks for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys: Antoine Winfield, Asher Allen and Lito Sheppard. Rookie Chris Cook is probably Griffin's long-term replacement, but he is currently recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus and might need another week to recover.

Griffin suffered his latest injury in the fourth quarter of Monday night's 29-20 loss at the New York Jets. The timing gives him plenty of time to recover in time for the 2011 season, but experience tells us to be cautious about skill-position players with multiple ACL tears.

It's been a brutal start from a health perspective for the entire NFC North, a topic we will delve into in more detail later this week.

Another week of three CBs for Minnesota?

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
10:05
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Cedric Griffin and Chris CookAP PhotoThe Vikings are hoping Cedric Griffin, left, and Chris Cook are close to returning from knee injuries.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We made a big deal last week of the Minnesota Vikings' decision to take three healthy cornerbacks to New Orleans for the season opener against the Saints. NFL teams typically have at least four or five corners in uniform to account for multiple-receiver sets and potential injury, and on paper the Vikings seemed outmanned.

But if you made a list of reasons for the Vikings’ 14-9 loss, having three cornerbacks wouldn’t qualify. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for a manageable 237 yards, and ultimately a defense that limits an opponent to 14 points has played winning football.

Still, I wonder if the Vikings are pushing their luck by preparing for a second game under those circumstances. One injury Sunday against the Miami Dolphins could dramatically alter how defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier utilizes sub packages.

Coach Brad Childress doesn’t disagree, and admitted Wednesday that “I’d like to have more corners available.” Ultimately, however, Childress said the organization wasn’t willing to make a significant move when two potential starters -- veteran Cedric Griffin and rookie Chris Cook -- are already a part of the 53-man roster and are relatively close to returning from knee injuries.

“You don’t want to take those guys and not have them on your roster and make them disappear because they’re going to get back in service," Childress said.

In essence, the Vikings are hoping to face a short-term storm risk until Griffin and/or Cook return. I suppose anything is possible, but that might not happen before next week at the earliest. Cook, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus Aug. 30, spent all of Wednesday’s practice with the scout team. At the time of the injury, ESPN analyst Stephania Bell suggested typical recovery time for similar injuries is four weeks. Griffin, meanwhile, is in only his second week of practice after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

By not placing Griffin on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, the Vikings signaled that he would be ready to return before Week 6. But in Week 2? That might be a stretch. Childress did note that Griffin removed his knee brace this week and said “there’s been kind of an evolution.” But it’s still a bit early. The guess here is that Antoine Winfield, Asher Allen and Lito Sheppard will be the only cornerbacks in uniform Sunday at the Metrodome.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8