NFL Nation: Anthony Barr

MINNEAPOLIS -- Good afternoon, and a happy Thanksgiving to all of you. The Minnesota Vikings practiced on Thanksgiving morning, in a session that was closed to reporters (no complaints here), and according to their injury report, they were still missing four starters as they prepare for the Carolina Panthers.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was out again with the knee and ankle injuries he suffered on Sunday, and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd did not practice again after sitting out last Sunday with a knee injury. Coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday that Floyd would play Sunday against the Panthers; if that's still the Vikings' plan, they will likely try to get Floyd on the practice field on Friday.

Running back Jerick McKinnon sat out for a second consecutive day with a low back strain, and tight end Chase Ford was also out with hamstring and foot injuries. Both McKinnon and Ford have been playing with back and foot injuries, respectively, and both figure to be available Sunday, but we'll again have to see how the Vikings handle things on Friday.

Safety Harrison Smith returned to limited participation after missing Wednesday's practice with shoulder and ankle injuries, and three players who were limited on Wednesday -- Matt Asiata (concussion), Matt Kalil (knee) and Anthony Barr (knee) -- were full participants on Thursday.

With that, we'll return you to more substantive happenings in the NFC North today. Hope you all enjoy a safe and happy holiday, and we'll talk to you tomorrow morning.
With six weeks left in the regular season, Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley continues to be the favorite for NFL defensive rookie of the year. He is the only NFL defender with at least 85 tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

The 17th overall pick in the draft, Mosley ranks first among rookies and No. 8 in the league with 87 tackles. He is tied for second among all linebackers with seven passes defensed.

Here is a look at Mosley's chief competition:

DT Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams: Even though he didn't start until the fifth game of the season, Donald has been most productive member of a disappointing defensive front. He leads all rookie defensive linemen in tackles (27) and sacks (four). The 13th overall pick, Donald is the third-highest graded defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. He is behind Detroit's Ndamukong Suh and Buffalo's Kyle Williams.

OLB Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders: Known for his pass rush ability in college, Mack has been a playmaker against the run as well as the pass. The fifth overall pick, Mack has the fifth-most tackles among rookie linebackers with 56. He only has one sack this season, but he is fourth among all linebackers with 26 quarterback hurries. Mack is the second-highest graded outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus.

OLB Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings: Barr gained attention when he won a game at Tampa Bay, forcing a fumble and returning it 27 yards for a touchdown in overtime. He became just the sixth rookie named NFC defensive player of the week in the past 10 seasons. The ninth overall pick in the draft, Barr has been disruptive with four sacks. But he's missed 19 tackles this season, the most of any linebacker in the NFL.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
A weekly look at what the Minnesota Vikings must fix:

The Vikings have typically been a sound tackling team during their first season in Mike Zimmer's defense, but they had what might have been their worst tackling day of the year in a loss to the Bears on Sunday. Considering the running back the Vikings will have to bring down this week against the Green Bay Packers, they'll have to be better to avoid a reprise of some bad memories.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings missed a season-high 13 tackles on Sunday. Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr was credited with five in what was one of the toughest days of his rookie season. Running back Matt Forte shook off Barr's arm-tackle attempt on a 30-yard screen in the first quarter, and Barr was the first of four Vikings to miss on Forte's 32-yard run at the end of the third quarter.

There's no magic formula for the Vikings to improve their tackling; it's a matter of players being in the right spots, taking good angles and wrapping up ball carriers. Barr appeared to overrun several plays against the Bears and paid for it against the elusive Forte. Sunday, however, brings a date with Packers battering ram Eddie Lacy, who is sixth in the league with 2.23 yards after contact per carry, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Lacy rumbled for 105 yards on 13 carries in the Packers' 42-10 win over the Vikings on Oct. 2, and keeping him from gaining extra yards will be an important task for the Vikings.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Concluding our Q&A with Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer (here's part 1 and part 2):

What has your working relationship been like with [general manager] Rick [Spielman] and the Wilfs?

Zimmer: Really good. Really good. I don't talk to Mark and Zygi all that much -- every Monday after the game we talk, after the game, I see them and stuff like that, and sometimes before the game, but that's really about it. But they've been, with everything, anything I've asked for, they've been accommodating. Rick has been really good. We'll sit down and talk; we'll watch film together, we'll watch the game tape after the game together. It's actually been pretty easy. That part has been easy.

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
AP Photo/Jim MoneCordarrelle Patterson has had problems playing at a consistently high level.
Was that a big adjustment for you -- being more involved in the higher-level stuff with management?

Zimmer: Not too much, because in Dallas, Jerry Jones was pretty involved. And then in Cincinnati, I met with Mike Brown every Monday. He was involved in all the draft meetings and everything. He was at practice every single day. It really wasn't that much different.

At least watching from the outside, it seems like your working relationship with Rick is pretty good -- it seemed like you were kind of able to say, 'Here's what I need to be successful,' and he was able to go get it. Is that how it's worked?

Zimmer: Yeah, and he's said, when he goes on the road now and looks at these college guys and stuff, even now, in watching how we play and the things we do, I think he's getting a better idea of what we need. Everything happened so fast before the draft -- getting here in January and all that, and trying to evaluate. Now, [Scott] Studwell and George Paton and Rick, when they're watching the tape and seeing how we play, the things we do and the techniques we're teaching, I think they have a good idea of that. It's never going to be 100 percent agreement on everything, but from watching the defensive players for so long, I have a good idea -- now, I'm wrong a lot, too, and we all are -- but I think the core characteristics that we're looking for in guys are easier to spot when you've been watching the tape.

In terms of getting all the pieces you need and guys that are perfect fits in your system, is it hard to expect that to happen in a year? Do you think it takes a couple cycles of player acquisition to get everything you need?

Zimmer: I don't ever look at it like that, because I think I'm a pretty good coach, and I can coach guys into doing it. Like, Josh Robinson, I think he's had a pretty good half so far. I think when guys learn the techniques we're trying to teach, they can improve. That's all I've ever tried to do, is improve players -- whoever they are, whoever we have at the time -- and then worry about the next year and figure out how we can get other guys in here. My job is to take each player and make them better every day.

You mentioned Cordarrelle [Patterson] a little bit [in your Tuesday news conference]. Is he still figuring out what you guys want from him, or is it a matter of being consistent in practice every day? What's the summary of where he's at right now?

Zimmer: It's not so much the consistency in practice, because I think he's doing a lot of good things in practice. It's maybe the consistency in the game a little bit more. That's really it -- it's being consistent, running the same route all the time, being at the same depth, running the same release, so that everybody is on the same page. That's really what it's about.

When he got here, of course, he hadn't played a lot of football. Is it something that just takes time for him to learn all the nuances of the game?

Zimmer: Yeah, and it's different for every player. Anthony Barr is coming here as a young guy that's learned a lot of things in a short amount of time, and some guys take a little bit longer. That's always how it's been. I've had some really great players that, in their third year, they start really coming on and figuring it out -- guys that have probably played more football than [Patterson] did. As long as they work, and they want to do the things the right way, and continue to do it good -- and I think he does. That's why it was good last week [against Tampa Bay] that he had some success. We've just got to keep trying to get him maintaining the consistency level.

You've mentioned you haven't been paying a whole lot of attention to Adrian Peterson's legal status. If he comes back, is it hard to put him back in the system when it's been this long?

Zimmer: I think it all depends on the guy a little bit. Each person is different. I've had a player tear his Achilles, and the first day back, he remembers everything and how to do it. And then you have other guys that will come back, and you have to re-teach their steps and technique -- everything. I think everything's different with every player.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The phrase "team rush" first made its way into coach Mike Zimmer's lexicon on Sept. 30, two days after the Minnesota Vikings sacked quarterback Matt Ryan just once and allowed him to escape the pocket numerous times in a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Zimmer could see a problem festering with how the Vikings executed his pass rushing concepts, often over pursuing quarterbacks while trying to win one-on-one battles. Four days later in Green Bay, the problem spread to the rush defense, when Eddie Lacy ran for 105 yards in 13 carries in a game where defensive end Brian Robison said some players "checked out" of sticking to the Vikings' defensive plan.

Since then, those issues haven't merited much discussion. The Vikings have sacked quarterbacks 20 times since then -- six more than any team in the league -- disrupting 20 percent of opposing passer's dropbacks. On Sunday, they pressured Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on 32.4 percent of his dropbacks, taking him down five times and registering two sacks on the Redskins' final drive.

"We're playing as a great defensive line," said defensive end Everson Griffen, who got his ninth sack in as many games on Sunday. "With my defensive line, we can be the best, and we're going to be the best each and every week, because we've got the best coaches. I love this team, I love the coaches and we're here to stay."

A significant part of the Vikings' success has come from the double-A gap blitz look the Vikings use regularly on third downs. They sent linebacker Chad Greenway on a blitz from that look on Sunday, and Greenway got his first sack of the season. But the Vikings can bring pressure from a number of different angles out of that set, in which Greenway and Anthony Barr line up on either side of the center and the Vikings' defensive tackles set up over the guards. The Vikings can drop Barr, Greenway, Griffen or Brian Robison into coverage from the double-A gap blitz look, and they can involve safety Harrison Smith in the package, as well, making it difficult for offenses to predict where pressure might be coming from.

"It's not us. It's Coach Zimmer and his plan," Greenway said. "We're just trying to create different situations. We do a lot of film study on what they do when put in that situation and we try to break it down off of that. I don't want to give you too much info on it. We like it."

No matter the details of the Vikings' approach, it seems to be working right now. They're headed into the bye on a two-game win streak, with flickering playoff hopes and a defense that feels like it's heating up.

"We're starting to get it and bring it together as a whole team," safety Harrison Smith said. "Now we have a little time to rest up, heal up and come back ready to go."

MINNEAPOLIS -- There is another award coming for a member of the Minnesota Vikings' defense.

Two days after Anthony Barr was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defensive end Everson Griffen claimed NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for October, at the end of a four-game stretch where he has recorded six sacks, eight tackles for loss and a forced fumble. It's the first time Griffen has won the award.

We have talked plenty about the emergence of Griffen in the past week or two, but it's a point that bears repeating in light of how much the Vikings appeared to put themselves out on a limb with the five-year, $42.5 million contract they gave him in March. That deal made Griffen one of the league's highest-paid defensive ends, and was a gamble on his ability to produce consistently after four seasons of being a rotational player. So far, the deal looks like a sound investment, and though Griffen has gotten some of his sacks as a result of pressure from other members of the Vikings' defensive line -- as coach Mike Zimmer has pointed out -- he has created plenty of pressure with his quickness off the edge. He's been solid against the run and had some splash plays chasing down screens, as well, and he looks like he will be a key member of the Vikings' defensive line for years to come.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Anthony Barr already got a game ball from coach Mike Zimmer after his game-winning fumble return touchdown on Sunday. Now, he's getting accolades from the NFL.

Barr won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors on Wednesday, claiming the award for the first time after a game where he recorded eight tackles, a sack and his first forced fumble, which he returned for a touchdown in overtime after ripping it away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Barr also had another quarterback hit and broke up a pass in the game. He has recovered three fumbles in the past two weeks.

He is the sixth rookie to win the award in the last 10 seasons, adding his name to a list that is composed of DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews, Brian Orakpo, Sean Lee and Luke Kuechly. That's a pretty impressive list for Barr to belong to -- the players on it have been to a combined 15 Pro Bowls -- and it's another sign that the rookie has a chance to move into some rarefied air as a linebacker.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
A weekly look at what the Minnesota Vikings must fix:

It wound up a moot point, considering what the Vikings' two first-round picks (Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr) did this past Sunday to turn a late-game collapse into a victory in Tampa Bay. But as the Vikings try to curtail one of the league's most proficient passing offenses in the Washington Redskins on Sunday, their young corners will have to be better about covering receivers without getting penalized.

Second-year man Xavier Rhodes and third-year cornerback Josh Robinson were flagged for a combined three penalties Sunday, including on back-to-back plays on Tampa Bay's touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Rhodes put his hands on Mike Evans and carried him too far downfield, thereby earning a defensive holding penalty the Buccaneers declined after Evans caught a 23-yard pass. After Rhodes spent some time pleading his case to side judge Jeff Lamberth, Robinson was called for a 9-yard pass interference penalty when he got too physical with Evans and shoved him to the ground with his right hand while Evans tried to turn for a pass.

Rhodes' eight penalties tie him for third most in the league this season, and he in particular seems to be learning how to play the position without crossing a line. He'll face a group of Redskins receivers who average a league-leading 6.83 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats and Information, so it stands to reason Rhodes won't want to give them too many free releases Sunday. His penalties are products of aggressiveness, but he's still learning how to take away catches through his positioning -- and not completely through his physical handling of receivers.
TAMPA, Fla. -- If someone makes a lowlight film of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season, they now have the perfect opening scene.

It came in Sunday’s 19-13 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings and it summed up the way things have been going for the 1-6 Buccaneers. It came on the first play of overtime.

Rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass from Mike Glennon that would have been a first down. But what happened next decided the game. Minnesota’s Anthony Barr knocked the ball out of Seferian-Jenkins' hands. Barr grabbed the ball and ran 27 yards for a touchdown to win the game.

“No excuse," Seferian-Jenkins said. “I’ve got to hold onto the ball better than that.’’

Seferian-Jenkins’ mistake might have been one of youth. He was fighting for extra yardage when the fumble took place.

“You have to get down in that situation," coach Lovie Smith said. ‘We had a positive play. In an overtime situation, when you know if you score a touchdown down there, you’ve got to protect the ball. If you take the ball right away, then you have to protect it and you can’t have a takeaway on that end of the field. That’s Football 101 and we have to correct it.’’

Seferian-Jenkins’ play was crucial. But it wasn’t the only reason the Bucs lost. The offense did nothing for three quarters and the defense didn’t do anything special against rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Bucs could have won the game in regulation if cornerback Johnthan Banks had held onto a potential interception, but he did not.

“It’s not [Seferian-Jenkins’] fault that we lost the game,’’ wide receiver Mike Evans said. “There were a lot of other plays. We only scored 13 points as an offense. We’ve got to be better.’’
TAMPA, Fla. -- The play began, as Mike Zimmer reminded Anthony Barr, with a mistake.

The Minnesota Vikings' rookie linebacker was in man coverage on Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins on Tampa Bay's first play in overtime, and when the tight end leaked out toward the sideline, Barr was too far inside to prevent him from making the catch. It was a similar route to what the Buccaneers had run on Mike Glennon's go-ahead touchdown pass to Seferian-Jenkins with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, and after the Vikings rallied to tie the game at 13, the Buccaneers had gone right back at Barr.

"Initially, I was a little upset with him," Zimmer said. "He wasn't being [wide in coverage] with the tight end enough, and he let him catch the ball. But now that it's over, I'm glad he did."

The game ended on that play because of what Barr did after he got beat. He put his right hand on Seferian-Jenkins' back, used his left hand to rip the ball out of the tight end's grasp, retrieved it from the turf and raced 27 yards for a game-winning touchdown that ended a three-game skid for the Vikings and served as another reminder of what a force the ninth overall pick in the draft already is, even if he doesn't have all the rough edges of his game smoothed out yet.

When he does? Barr stands a chance to be an absolute terror. He has recovered three fumbles in the last two weeks, and he recorded his third sack of the season to go along with eight tackles. He's just three years removed from playing running back at UCLA and is learning his responsibilities in a 4-3 defense after mostly rushing the passer as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme with the Bruins. He wasn't able to start his career in Minnesota until a month after the draft, thanks to UCLA's quarters system that had Barr reviewing practice film with linebackers coach Adam Zimmer over Skype from thousands of miles away. But veterans in the Vikings' locker room raved about how quickly Barr has come to understand his assignments, and the play he made on Sunday showed the instincts of a player several years his senior.

"He knew he had help coming [in safety Harrison Smith]. You could see him," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "He knew the carrier was going to go down. I don't think he was concerned about that. He just made the play; it was exactly how you'd draw it up. Sometimes it's hard to get in there, but sometimes your hand just falls right."

Barr said he's getting more comfortable understanding concepts and routes as he drops back into coverage, though he might have more work to do there than he does against the run or rushing the passer. The Vikings are able to play with him learning on the fly, though, because of how much he already understands and how ferocious he already can be.

"His first time he came into practice, he knew all his assignments," Smith said. "He wasn't looking around all over the place, which is hard as a rookie. It's hard to come in and know what to do, and line up in the right spot, even. But the day he got here, he was doing things right. He's just getting better and better. ... His upside is as high as you can go."

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26

TAMPA, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 19-13 win in overtime Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: In what looked destined to be another last-minute collapse when Mike Glennon hit Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a touchdown with two minutes left in regulation, the Vikings scratched out a win that ends a three-game losing streak and could help build momentum before their bye week. Teddy Bridgewater directed a nine-play, 61-yard drive for a game-tying field goal in regulation, and linebacker Anthony Barr -- who was in coverage with Xavier Rhodes on the Buccaneers' touchdown -- redeemed himself with a forced fumble that he ran in for a touchdown on the Buccaneers' first offensive play of overtime. It was a stunning end to a flawed game between two losing teams, but the Vikings' two first-round picks came up big when it mattered most.

Clock error hurts at end of regulation: Greg Jennings appeared to go out of bounds after catching a 10-yard pass from Bridgewater for 10 yards and a first along the left sideline on the Vikings' final drive. The clock, however, continued to run after the play, costing the Vikings valuable time as they tried to score a game-winning touchdown. The extra seconds might have given Bridgewater a chance to throw into the end zone; without them, however, the Vikings let the clock run down following Bridgewater's final completion to Chase Ford with 22 seconds left, choosing to play for overtime instead of risking a sack or a rushed decision from their rookie QB.

Patterson gets involved: Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was more involved early in the game than he has been in recent weeks, and he finished with six catches for 83 yards as well as a 10-yard gain on a jet sweep. Bridgewater looked for Patterson on the first three plays of the Vikings' two-minute drill and finished the day with 12 targets.

Game ball: Barr was in coverage on the Buccaneers' final touchdown, but he's the game-ball winner for his tour de force on the final play of the game when he ripped the ball from Seferian-Jenkins' hands and returned it for a game-winning touchdown. It was Barr's third fumble recovery in two games. He also had eight tackles and a sack. He's still learning as a rookie, but he's continuing to show signs that he's going to be a dominant defender for the Vikings.

What's next: The Vikings (3-5) return home for their final game before the bye week, facing the Washington Redskins on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Don't expect any fine offensive displays Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

That's because the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both are struggling on offense. The Vikings (2-5) and Bucs (1-5) are starting young quarterbacks and ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

The Vikings, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, rank No. 29 in overall offense and are last in passing offense. The Bucs have been starting second-year pro Mike Glennon and they're ranked No. 30 in overall offense.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas preview the matchup:

Yasinskas: Ben, I know the numbers aren't pretty. But has Bridgewater been showing any signs of progress?

Goessling: He has shown some. He hit 12 of his 15 throws after a pair of interceptions in Buffalo on Sunday, and I thought he did a better job of trusting himself to find his receivers downfield than he has in recent weeks. He has looked great at times, especially in the Vikings' win over Atlanta last month, but he's still figuring a lot of things out.

He needs to be better about throwing on target, and he has fallen victim to the same problems that plague many rookies, when he has held the ball a little too long or thrown late because he didn't make up his mind soon enough. But it's important to remember Bridgewater doesn't have Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and an offensive line that can protect him. The Vikings have given up 27 sacks this season, which is the second-most in the league, and they've forced Bridgewater to run for his life on a number of other occasions.

Speaking of quarterbacks, will Glennon remain the starter or will Josh McCown get the job back now that he's getting healthy?

Yasinskas: Coach Lovie Smith has been coy about his plans. My best guess is Glennon will get at least one more start because McCown returned to practice only this week and was out for more than a month. I think Glennon has played well enough to be the full-time starter, but I'm not sure Smith sees it that way. McCown was Smith's hand-picked quarterback and the two have history together from their Chicago days. Smith's history has shown he prefers to go with veterans. Back in Chicago, he once benched Kyle Orton, who was playing well, as soon as Rex Grossman got healthy. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith goes back to McCown.

You mentioned Minnesota's offensive line. I know it has been banged up. Will it be any healthier this week, and can it at least give Bridgewater some protection against a Tampa Bay pass rush that hasn't been good?

Goessling: It's hard to say at this point if it will be healthier. Guard Vladimir Ducasse is optimistic about his chances to play after injuring his knee on Sunday, but John Sullivan is still going through the concussion protocol, and his loss would be a big one. He's the Vikings' most reliable blocker, and does plenty to help Bridgewater set protections.

The biggest problem, though, has been left tackle Matt Kalil, who got beat again several times on Sunday and has struggled in pass protection all season. Kalil was the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2012 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but got hurt last year and hasn't looked like the same guy. The Vikings were able to protect Bridgewater effectively against Atlanta, another team with an underwhelming pass rush, so I'd expect they'll fare better this week than they have against Detroit and Buffalo.

Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, how has the Vikings' old coach, Leslie Frazier, fared as the coordinator? The Bucs have obviously been shredded on defense; how much of that do you think is Frazier and Smith's old Cover 2 scheme and how much is personnel?

Yaskinsas: Tampa Bay ranks last in total defense and also is No. 32 in pass defense. That's shocking since Smith and Frazier are supposed to be defensive gurus. I think this team has good defensive personnel, especially with tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. But the pass rush has been non-existent, and that has taken a toll on the secondary. The main problem might be Smith's stubbornness. He's sticking with the Tampa 2 scheme even though it looks like it might be outdated. I'm not saying he should totally ditch the Tampa 2, but it might be wise -- and productive -- to mix in some man coverage at times.

The Vikings lost a last-minute game against Buffalo last week. That reminded me that the Vikings lost a lot of games in the final minutes last season. Is there some sort of flaw there or is this just a young team that needs to learn how to win?

Goessling: They believe it's the latter. The approach the Vikings took on the final drive on Sunday didn't look like what they did last year, when they sat back in coverage on a lot of those final drives. They were aggressive with their fronts, blitzing Orton four times on the drive and sacking him twice. But there were breakdowns that probably can be traced to inexperience. Josh Robinson needed to reroute Sammy Watkins when he pressed him on third-and-12, Xavier Rhodes misplayed Watkins' game-winning touchdown, and first-year coach Mike Zimmer said he probably should have called a timeout before a fourth-and-20 play -- like Frazier did in a couple games last season -- to get the defense settled. The Vikings gave up a first down there after Chad Greenway was trying to get Captain Munnerlyn in the right spot in a no-huddle situation. Greenway had his head turned at the snap and didn't get deep enough in coverage to keep Orton from hitting Scott Chandler for a first down.

The Vikings are young in the secondary, especially, and I think that showed up Sunday, but I continue to see progress in what they're doing. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, and Rhodes has continued to improve as a corner. It'll take another year of player acquisitions, but they're headed in the right direction.

To wrap this up, why has the Buccaneers' ground game struggled so much? It might be a function of playing from behind as much as they have, but it seems like they've struggled to run the ball in closer games, too. What do you think the problem has been there?

Yasinskas: It's true they have had to abandon the running game at times because they've fallen so far behind. But even at the start of games, they've struggled to run the ball. That's puzzling because they have a rebuilt offensive line and running back Doug Martin is healthy after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. I put the majority of the blame on the offensive line. But I also put some blame on Martin. He is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. His backup, Bobby Rainey, is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Martin needs to make more out of his opportunities.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Minnesota Vikings must fix:

On their final defensive series in their 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings allowed 91 passing yards, including 22 after the catch. They gave up 130 yards after the catch Sunday, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and are 20th in the league in limiting gains after the catch this season.

Although they'll face the league's worst after-the-catch team this weekend, the Vikings can't afford to let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get their offense going on broken plays.

For all his impressive moments in what's been an outstanding rookie season, linebacker Anthony Barr might be the Vikings' biggest culprit in allowing gains after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, no player has allowed more yards after the catch than the 256 Barr has given up this season. Although he's proven to be a force against screen passes, as he can read and react, he's still learning how to make open-field tackles after dropping back in pass coverage. The Bills ran a number of shallow crossing routes designed to get their receivers matched up against Barr in coverage; they targeted him 13 times on Sunday and completed 11 passes that saw their receivers gain 66 of their 92 yards after the catch. Pass coverage is the only part of the game in which Barr still looks like a rookie, and the Vikings will have to go through the learning process with him, but the sooner he develops, the quicker they'll likely be able to limit gains with the ball in a receiver's hands.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the Minnesota Vikings must fix:

We'll give the opening statement for this week's edition of The Film Don't Lie to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. Coach, how did you feel about your third-down defense on Sunday?

"It’s terrible," Zimmer said on Monday. "We have a lot of work to do. I'm extremely disappointed in that. We will put a lot more time and effort into it than what we have. It's disappointing because that should be one of our strengths."

The Vikings have good reason to be disappointed after a game in which they allowed the Falcons to convert 10 of their 15 third-down attempts. That included a third-and-20, two third-and-10s and a third-and-7 on which Matt Ryan threw a 36-yard touchdown to Devin Hester. Missed sacks were at the heart of several Falcons conversions; the Vikings had an eight-man blitz fail to get home on a third-and-7 early in the game, dialed up a five-man blitz on Ryan's touchdown to Hester and saw Ryan elude Brian Robison's grasp on a third-and-10 in the third quarter. The Vikings' first -- and only -- sack of the game came on an Anthony Barr blitz in the fourth quarter, but missed chances to put the quarterback on the ground allowed Ryan to pick holes in Minnesota's coverage on several occasions.

The task won't get much easier on Thursday night against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a Green Bay Packers offense with the league's ninth-best third-down conversion rate. But an offensive line that has already allowed 10 sacks might give the Vikings chances to get to Rodgers, who is one of the game's masters at extending plays. The Vikings haven't struggled to pressure quarterbacks this season -- they've gotten pressure on 26.1 percent of their opportunities, which is the 14th-best rate in the league this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- but wrapping up the quarterback on a few more third downs would help their defense to get off the field.

Patriots vs. Vikings preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
Update: The Vikings have deactivated Adrian Peterson for Sunday’s game following Friday's indictment by a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off their biggest road win in five seasons, while the New England Patriots are trying to avoid an 0-2 start after a 13-point defeat on the road last week. Just like everyone predicted, right?

In a matchup that pits Patriots coach Bill Belichick against a couple of his old foes from the AFC -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- the Vikings will try to build on their surprising start in their home opener at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Zimmer's game plan in Cincinnati last year forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into his worst game of the season, and Zimmer will hope to recreate the performance with a Vikings defense that isn't as experienced as what he had with the Bengals.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss this week's matchup.

Ben Goessling: Mike, the Vikings sacked Rams quarterbacks five times Sunday. After a pretty poor week for the Patriots' offensive line against the Dolphins -- a team whose defensive coordinator is a disciple of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer -- do you think protecting Brady is going to be a lingering issue this week?

Mike Reiss: Yes, Ben, there is no doubt about that. One thing I believe should help the Patriots is that while the Vikings' defensive line is solid, I don't believe it is at the same level as Miami's. Specifically, the Patriots won't be seeing the same type of speed rush from Cameron Wake off the defensive left side, which they just couldn't handle. There's only a few like Wake in the NFL. The Patriots are still figuring out their best combination up front, and that will be one of the most closely watched storylines from a New England perspective. One thing I'm sure Patriots followers would be interested to hear is how Matt Cassel, the New England backup from 2005-08, is performing.

Goessling: So far, Cassel has been solid, though he didn't have to take many chances in the Vikings' win against the Rams last week. He only attempted three passes of more than 10 yards, and he was able to hit a number of screen passes to running backs, receivers and even tight end Rhett Ellison. But Cassel hit Greg Jennings on a nice post play and threw a couple of touchdown passes off play-action. The hope is Cassel can be solid enough to keep the Vikings relevant and give them more time to develop Teddy Bridgewater; ultimately, he is the future of this team, but for now, Cassel is buying the Vikings time before they turn things over to Bridgewater. And if they're able to win enough games with Cassel, who knows? He could turn out to be the starter all season.

Belichick will get to face one of his old foes from the AFC in Turner on Sunday; how have the Patriots typically matched up against Turner teams, and how do you expect their defense will handle the Vikings on Sunday, after the Vikings showed off a number of weapons last week against the Rams?

Reiss: When the Patriots have faced a Turner-coordinated offense, Belichick has touched on the vertical nature of the passing game. He also said earlier this week that, "You have to be able to stop the running game and stop '12 personnel' [1 back, 2 tight ends]." The Patriots' biggest issues in the opener were poor fits in the run game (191 yards allowed). I wouldn't be surprised if we see Darrelle Revis shadow Cordarrelle Patterson after Revis almost exclusively played the left side in the opener.

In last year's draft, the Patriots traded the No. 29 pick to Minnesota for Patterson and received second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in return. The Patriots turned those picks into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce and used the seventh to trade for running back LeGarrette Blount (now in Pittsburgh). One year later, how do you assess that deal from a Minnesota perspective?

Goessling: I can't imagine the Vikings have any regrets about it. As much as they could have used some of those picks to address their defensive depth issues, they've got a budding star in Patterson. He's not only filled the role vacated by Percy Harvin in the Vikings' offense, he's done it without any of the questions surrounding Harvin's durability and temperament. Patterson isn't quite as strong or shifty, but he's taller, a more natural outside receiver and his ability to hit holes is as good as you'll find anywhere. He's already become a focal point in the Vikings' offense, and I imagine that will only continue. The Vikings use him in enough different ways that I think it would be hard to completely shut him down with Revis, though I'm sure Belichick will come up with something to try and fence him in.

Speaking of defensive game plans, the Bengals' defense under Zimmer had a good one to frustrate Brady last season, and Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyne (a Zimmer disciple) had success against the Patriots last week, of course. We've talked a little bit about the pass rush already, but what else did Zimmer dial up in that game to force Brady into one of his worst days of the season, and do you think he can do it again this weekend?

Reiss: The main things I remember about Zimmer's plan last season was the ability to hurry Brady with the standard four rushers early (Geno Atkins was a beast inside), and then bringing out the different blitz packages on third down and more obvious passing situations. One thing, in particular, is the double A-gap blitz right up the middle. Even if you don't bring those extra two rushers on a blitz, by showing the look, it forces the offensive line to communicate and make sure they are all seeing the same thing in terms of who is coming, who isn't and who to block. The Patriots' offensive line crumbled in the third quarter against the Dolphins last week, and I'd imagine the Vikings watched that tape and are salivating at the possibilities of frustrating Brady. At the same time, I think the Patriots are better than they showed, and we could see some personnel changes in the middle with rookie center Bryan Stork in the mix.

Defensively for the Vikings, tell us more about where and how they put stress on the opposition.

Goessling: You touched on it a little bit: The big key to it is still the creativity Zimmer shows in his blitz packages. He doesn't bring extra pressure all that often, in the grand scheme of things (he only blitzed eight times last week), but he'll show enough blitz looks, and send pass-rushers from enough different spots, that he keeps you on your toes. You'll often see him show a seven- or eight-man front, only to have several players drop back into coverage. The problem is guessing which players it will be; the Vikings have some flexibility with their personnel, like linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings' secondary depth still concerns me, and we'll see whether Brady can exploit it this week, but this Vikings' defense won't be as big of a pushover as last season's unit was.



Thursday, 11/27
Sunday, 11/30
Monday, 12/1