Notebook: Leslie Frazier's confidence in defense is not rewarded
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were trailing the Green Bay Packers 33-27 with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter and faced fourth-down and 10 when coach Leslie Frazier sent the punting unit onto the field.
The Vikings had the ball at their own 36-yard line and rookie quarterback Christian Ponder had just thrown three incompletions, but the Vikings fans in the Metrodome wanted Frazier to go for it. His decision, which came with the Vikings having all three of their timeouts left, was followed by plenty of boos.
Kluwe's punt was fair caught by the Packers' Randall Cobb at his own 20 and Green Bay was able to run out the clock by picking up three first downs.
So did Frazier make the right move?
Going for it on fourth-and-10 might not be as big of a long shot as some think. According to Football Outsiders, NFL teams that went for it in such situations converted 36 percent of the time (14 of 39) in 2009 and 41 percent of the time (12 of 29) in 2010.
"I thought with the timeouts we had plus the two-minute warning, if we punted the ball, wherever the ball ended up at, if we play good defense and the way our defense was doing a good job of getting us the ball back, I thought we had a chance to get it back for our offense," Frazier said. "Unfortunately, that didn't happen."
One reason was because the Vikings' run defense didn't hold up its end of the bargain.
Ranked fifth in the NFL entering Sunday, the Vikings gave up 114 yards against Green Bay. Fifty-four of those yards came during the Packers' final drive, including runs of 15, 20 and 13 yards from running backs James Starks.
"It's definitely frustrating," middle linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "That's our motto (to be able to stop the run), and to come out at the end of the game with four minutes and (for them to) be able to close the deal, it is tough for us. We'll come back to the drawing board Wednesday, realize that our makeup is to stop the run and then our pass rush will get after them. Come back to work Wednesday and we'll get it right."
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams said he was out of position for a couple of Starks' big gains. "I will take the blame for those," he said. "I was trying to be aggressive, but you just need to stay home and be true to the defense."
Asked if he trusts his defense right now, Frazier said: "You have to continue to evaluate your team and continue to understand what your defensive weaknesses are. In that situation, I really believed we could go out and stop them from running the football.
"I don't know what they had rushing up to that point but there was nothing that they had shown me that they could run the ball as well as they did in that four-minute situation. ... It's hard to see that happen when you know how well we've played run defense around here for a number of years.
"It's something we really have to address because everything that we talk about from a defensive standpoint starts with stopping the run and that was a chance for us to really come up big and they did a great job of blocking and running the football."
Cook denies charge
Minneapolis attorney David Valentini, who is representing Vikings cornerback Chris Cook, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that his client denies strangling his girlfriend. Cook remained in Hennepin County jail Sunday on two domestic assault charges.
Cook was arrested early Saturday in Eden Prairie and is scheduled to make a court appearance Monday.
Cook was being held on probable cause for domestic assault/strangulation and a charge of fifth-degree domestic assault. The first charge is a felony-level offense and the second is a misdemeanor.
"Chris denies the strangulation charge," Valentini told the Pioneer Press. "Obviously, he has a different version of events. He is totally bummed out he couldn't be here."
Asked about what happened to Cook, Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels said: "It's too bad, it's unfortunate. We all love Chris and we're praying for him. We'll welcome him back when he comes."
Change in plans
The Packers' frequent use of multiple receiver sets caused Vikings defensive coordinator Fred Pagac to prepare to use both a nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) look on Sunday.
Cornerback Marcus Sherels spent time working in the dime defense in practice and was going to be used in that role in the game. But when Cook was arrested that changed the plan.
Sherels was inserted in the nickel and Asher Allen, who would have been used in the nickel, became the starter at the left corner. Veteran Antoine Winfield continues to be bothered by a neck injury and had been listed as doubtful on the Friday injury report. He was inactive for the third game in a row.
The Vikings also had rookie corner Brandon Burton and rookie safety Mistral Raymond active Sunday to add depth. The Vikings did not use the dime defense once, sometimes using the base package against three receiver sets.
This was far from ideal but there was a common theme in the locker room afterward.
"When your number is called you've got to be ready," Sherels said. "That's how we prepare every week, like we're going to play."
Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings, who caught seven passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers for 147 yards and a touchdown, said he isn't concerned about the opposing defensive backs.
"We have the mindset that we are going to beat our guy," Jennings said. "You have to have some type of confidence in yourself and we feel as a group and as a unit that we can beat our guy in front of us and get the job done."
Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin caught two passes for 15 yards and had two rushes for 8 yards in the first half Sunday but he did not play in the final two quarters after aggravating a rib injury that has bothered him since training camp.
"I'll have to wait and see," Frazier said when asked if Harvin would be available for next Sunday's game at Carolina. "I'm just not sure where he is other than the fact that he wasn't able to finish the game today. We'll learn more probably (Monday) after they take a look again and just see what's going on."
Frazier said Harvin was wearing a protective jacket for his ribs Sunday.
Herrera injures knee
Vikings right guard Anthony Herrera injured his left knee in the second quarter, attempted to return to the game but then had to come out for good in the fourth quarter.
Herrera, who was replaced by rookie Brandon Fusco, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last November in a loss to the Packers at the Metrodome. He missed the remainder of the 2010 season and then returned in training camp.
The extent of the injury wasn't immediately known. Herrera was fitted with a brace for the knee before he attempted to return.
"I didn't notice it," Berger said when asked if the continuity of the line suffered when Herrera departed. "I think Fusco came in and did a good job. You practice for this kind of situation, it comes up. You hope that everybody can stay healthy, but unfortunately that's not the way the game goes. You've got to be ready to go on the fly."
Peterson feels fine
Peterson did leave the game briefly in the fourth quarter after twisting his ankle on the Vikings' second-to-last drive. He was able to return. "The training staff took care of me and I am feeling fine," Peterson said.
Peterson was pleased with what he saw from rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
"There are definitely a lot of positives that you can take from his performance," Peterson said. "He stepped in and did an incredible job, which made for great energy out there for the offense and defense, creating a good atmosphere."
Peterson now has 982 yards rushing against the Packers in his career, establishing a team record. Bill Brown had 862 yards against Green Bay.
Ponder got off to a terrific start finding wide receiver Michael Jenkins open down the sideline on the Vikings' first play from scrimmage for a 72-yard gain to the Packers 1-yard line.
The play was initially ruled a touchdown but it was determined on replay that Jenkins was down before getting into the end zone.
"It was just a double move," Jenkins said of the move he put on Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams. "Coaches drew up taking a shot, first play of the game and you know it was a great ball by Christian. Fortunately (I) got down to the 1, unfortunately, I should say, but we were able to punch it in and it was a great start for us."
Jenkins later caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Ponder in the fourth quarter.
"It was basically just a little post, spread post," Jenkins said. "(Ponder) threw a great ball and I just made a great break on it."
Guion on offense
Defensive tackle Letroy Guion was used for two snaps Sunday as a fullback in the Vikings goal-line package.
The first time it did not work as Peterson was stopped for a 1-yard loss with the ball on the Packers 1 in the first quarter. But in the second quarter, Guion blocked the safety as Peterson went in from 1-yard out.
Taking the blame
Vikings free safety Husain Abdullah accepted full responsibility for Jennings' 79-yard touchdown reception early in the third quarter.
That score, which gave the Packers a 20-17 lead, came when Jennings was released by Asher Allen but wasn't picked up by Abdullah. Jennings caught Rodgers' pass at the Vikings 45-yard line and just jogged toward the end zone.
"I just lost sight of him, that's it," Abdullah said. "It's terrible because then they ensued to steamroll and put up 20 points in a hurry so it's kind of a sick feeling."
Rodgers did put a pump fake on Abdullah that certainly played a role in him losing track of Jennings. Rodgers finished 24 of 30 for 335 yards with three touchdowns and a 146.5 passer rating.
"He's a great football player, he doesn't miss much," Abdullah said. "It's tough to play against him, it's definitely a fun challenge and when you make it easier for him like that, like I did, it's just kind of painful."
Sacks keep coming
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had two sacks against Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse, giving him an NFL-leading 11.5 on the season.
Allen set a Vikings record by getting a sack for the ninth consecutive game. He had shared the record with Jim Marshall and Carl Eller.
Allen also moved into third place for the most sacks in his first eight NFL seasons. Reggie White had 124 from 1985 to 1992 and Derrick Thomas had 98 from 1989 to 1996. Allen now has 94.5 sacks since entering the league in 2004.
"I go out to win games," Allen said when asked about the records. "We are trying to win games. Other than that, keep playing. I can look back (at the records) at the end of the season."