Coach Leslie Frazier spent two days contemplating personnel changes, but announced Wednesday that no alterations to the starting lineup are necessary heading into Sunday’s game against the Cardinals at Mall of America Field.
And that includes quarterback, where Donovan McNabb is off to a 0-4 start and well aware of the fans’ cries for his benching and the promotion of rookie first-round draft pick Christian Ponder.
“I don’t get caught up in that whole deal,” McNabb said of the heat he’s getting. “Everyone loves the backup, first and foremost. Everyone loves for something else to happen. … The way of changing everything is to go out and win. We all know that. I can’t focus on what people are saying on the outside and what all the rumors are. I can only focus on what we’re doing here.”
Frazier has stood firm behind McNabb through the 13-year veteran’s struggles this season. Although McNabb’s 80.9 passer rating is respectable, he’s letting the team down at critical points in the game.
Inaccuracy has been his biggest issue, especially when teams force him to stay in the pocket. On third downs, he’s completing only 37.1 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 54.6, good for 28th in the league.
Unlike last season, when McNabb was benched twice after clashing with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, McNabb enjoys a strong relationship with Frazier.
McNabb and Frazier have known each other since 1999, when both were starting new jobs in the NFL. McNabb was a rookie with the Eagles, while Frazier coached the team’s defensive backs.
“We have a history together that makes it a little bit easier to be pointed in conversations and not have to dance around issues,” Frazier said. “And vice versa. To be able to communicate on that level, it helps.”
McNabb said the comfort of a long-term relationship with Frazier is helpful because Frazier focuses on the positive rather than the many negative aspects that come with being 0-4.
“It pays big dividends for us because we can communicate not just about what we’re doing wrong, but what we’re doing right,” McNabb said. “A lot of times when you have discussions with coaches, they want to focus so much on the negative and not focus on the positive.
“I think it’s important when you discuss about what you’re doing to focus on the positive and continue to stay in the positive area. Cleaning up your weaknesses and pushing more in the positive to stay in that direction. For me, being a leader of this team, I think it’s important that I obviously set the tone early for the guys to see and then the other guys begin to follow.”
Frazier and McNabb sat down Monday and talked at length about the state of the team.
“We went into detail about where we are, where we need to be and what needs to be done going forward,” Frazier said. “I think we’re on the same page. We know what we need to get done. I know he’s eager to get back on the football field. Eager to play another football game and eager to right the ship.”
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 11-10. Vikings are 5-0 at home against the Cardinals since 1977, with all five games coming at the Metrodome. The teams have met twice in the playoffs, with the Vikings winning both games.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES
–The Vikings led the NFC North from the first week until the final play of the 2003 season. That play came as time expired at Sun Devil Stadium against a 3-12 Cardinals team. On fourth-and-25, Josh McCown threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Nate Poole to beat the Vikings 18-17. Poole didn’t get both feet down, but was forced out of bounds by DBs Brian Russell and Corey Chavous. Replay review upheld the ruling of a touchdown as stunned Vikingslaid on the field in disbelief. “You don’t have any clue how much this hurts,” S Corey Chavous said.
–Former Arizona WR Nate Poole’s catch to beat Minnesota on the final play of the 2003 season turned the playoff tide drastically in two cities. In Minneapolis, the Vikings joined the 1978 Redskins as the only teams to start a season 6-0 and miss the playoffs. In Green Bay, the Packers won the division despite trailing the Vikings for all but the final play of the season. Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt invited Poole to the Packers’ wild-card game the following week. Poole was given a hero’s welcome by fans screaming “Thanks for the catch” upon Poole’s arrival at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport.
“You know, if it doesn’t work out with the Arizona Cardinals, I would love to be up here because these fans are just terrific,” said Poole, who was a free agent after the 2003 season.
–Since former Arizona WR Nate Poole’s catch beat the Vikings on the final play of the 2003 season, the NFL has changed its rule on players forced out of bounds in the end zone. If a defenders forces a receiver out of bounds, it’s now an incompletion. “If they had changed the forceout rule sooner, I would have gone to the playoffs in 2003,” former Vikings coach Mike Tice, who was fired after the 2005 season, said in 2008.
–The second-biggest margin of defeat in the Vikings’ 51-year history is a 56-14 loss to the then-St. Louis Cardinals in 1963. That was the Vikings’ third season.
–Three Vikings have thrown for four touchdowns in a game against the Cardinals. The first two make sense. Hall of Famer Warren Moon did it in 1995. Brad Johnson, who would go on to win a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, did it in 1996. Then Tarvaris Jackson, who never established himself as a competent quarterback in five seasons, did it in 2008. Jackson had lost his starting job after two games that season, but was put back in the starting lineup late in the season after Gus Frerotte was injured. Jackson’s performance against the Cardinals remains the best game of his career by far.
–WR Bernard Berrian’s inability to make an impact as a deep threat the past three seasons is a hot topic in Minnesota this week. Perhaps the sight of the Cardinals uniform will help. In a 2008 rout of Arizona, Berrian caught a 41-yard touchdown pass and also returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown.
–Sunday’s game will feature brothers on opposing teams. The Vikings’ Husain Abdullah and Arizona’s Hamza Abdullah both play safety. Husain starts at free safey, while Hamza backs up Kerry Rhodes at free safety. It will be the first time they’ve seen each other since Aug. 10 when they were invited by President Obama to the White House for the Iftar dinner in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 — Number of offensive linemen drafted above the fifth round by the Vikings in their past nine drafts. They haven’t taken an offensive lineman in the first round since 2002 (Bryant McKinnie).
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Not at all. I don’t have very much hair to pull out, so that wouldn’t be an issue.” — QB Donovan McNabb, when asked if he had been affected by all the chatter about how he should be benched so that rookie first-round draft pick Christian Ponder could start.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Vikings made a minor roster move that could provide a noticeable change in their edge blocking. By signing FB Ryan D’Imperio from their practice squad, it gives them their only true fullback on the roster and allows TE Jim Kleinsasser to play more snaps as a traditional blocking tight end.
Kleinsasser is an exceptional blocker whether he’s on the edge or in the backfield. But when he’s lined up in the fullback position, the Vikings don’t have another good blocking tight end to put on the edge.
TEs Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph try to block, but they’re pass-catchers and ineffective blockers. Undrafted rookie TE Allen Reisner was released to make room for D’Imperio. Reisner is a candidate to be added to the practice squad.
D’Imperio, a college linebacker just two years ago, is raw. But having him and Kleinsasser on the field together is an upgrade from a blocking standpoint.
–FS Husain Abdullah played mostly deep, single-high coverage against the Chiefs. He had a team-high 12 tackles and leads the team with 41 on the season. That includes 16 in Week 1 at San Diego.
–DE Jared Allen continues to be a disruptive force, especially in the first half. He had another two sacks against the Chiefs. He is second in the NFL with 6.5 sacks and has tied a personal best with at least one sack in six straight games. Allen, however, needs to be wary of teams using his aggressiveness against him. The Chiefs ran some draws that got past Allen because he had over-penetrated.
–WR Devin Aromashodu is expected to become a bigger part of the team’s efforts to come up with some sort of vertical attack. His 34-yard touchdown reception against the Chiefs showed he can get down field and fight for the ball when it’s thrown to him.
–NT Remi Ayodele has started four games, but he’s still a player with a small role. The Vikings play him only on a limited basis while using backups Fred Evans and Letroy Guion a lot. Ayodele, and offseason free-agent pickup from the Saints, has only five tackles.
–WR Greg Camarillo, a six-year veteran who thought he was going to be a bigger part of the offense, has been inactive for the past three games. If he hadn’t taken a paycut to stay with the team, he probably would have been released already.
–CB Antoine Winfield (neck) didn’t practice Wednesday. He’s expected to play, but if he doesn’t, that would force Chris Cook to start at left corner and bring Asher Allen in as the nickel back. Allen has been a disappointment in his three seasons.
–C John Sullivan (ankle) didn’t practice on Wednesday. The Vikings have experienced depth behind him with veteran Joe Berger, who was signed after the first game.
–P Chris Kluwe (hamstring) didn’t practice Wednesday. If he can’t go, the team probably would sign a punter for the short term. Also, K Ryan Longwell was a punter in college.
–MLB E.J. Henderson (knee) was limited in practice. That’s actually good for him because his bothersome knee has kept him out of three practices entirely the past couple of weeks.
–LT Charlie Johnson (elbow) was limited in practice, but is expected to play Sunday.
–FS Husain Abdullah (pelvis) was limited in practice Wednesday, but is expected to play.
–SS Jamarca Sanford (knee) was limited in practice Wednesday, but is expected to play on Sunday.
The Vikings need to use their fifth-ranked run defense to take Cardinals running back Beanie Wells and his 5.4-yard average and five rushing TDs out of the game. With that accomplished, the Vikings can feed off the Metrodome noise level to put extra pressure on QB Kevin Kolb. The Vikings then need to double cover or at least roll a safety to Larry Fitzgerald and force one of the Cardinals’ other receivers to beat them.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Vikings RCB Cedric Griffin, who has been beaten in game-changing deep balls the past two weeks, vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, an elite deep threat that has a 73-yard TD catch this season. Griffin won’t follow Fitzgerald side to side, but he should be the primary defender on Fitzgerald. Griffin has played well overall this season. But two weeks ago, he gave up a 40-yard completion in overtime to Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. The Lions kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play. Last week, Griffin fell in coverage and gave up a 52-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe in the fourth quarter.
Vikings MLB E.J. Henderson, who has played on a sore left knee the past three weeks, vs. Cardinals RB Beanie Wells, who has 321 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 59 carries (5.4). It’s a group effort by the Vikings defense to make sure the Cardinals don’t strike a balance between run and pass. The tackles need to control the interior gaps and the ends need to not get caught out of position while trying to rush the passer too eagerly. If that’s taken care of, Henderson is a strong run defender. His knee has hampered him in pass coverage and limited his reps in the nickel defense. But he’s still a force against the run.