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Updated: December 19th, 2012 7:01pm
Notebook: Hard work has helped Vikings cut down on penalties

Notebook: Hard work has helped Vikings cut down on penalties

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have been assessed the fourth-fewest penalties in the NFL this season, being called for 75 infractions that resulted in 680 yards.

Only the Atlanta Falcons (50 penalties, 380 yards), New York Giants (65/521) and New York Jets (73/623) have been called for fewer penalties. The Vikings are just in front of the Miami Dolphins (76/676).

This is a big difference from a year ago when the Vikings were the 10th-most penalized team in the NFL with 109 for 908 yards en route to a 3-13 finish.

"If you look back we have not, in the time I've been here, been very good when it comes to penalties," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "For us to be in the top-five this season, (that's a) credit to our players. We really emphasized it in the offseason, but that's not unlike any other year that we've emphasized it. Once again, it's our ownership really buying into some things that I talked to them about this offseason."

One of the things Frazier brought up was employing officials to work the Vikings' practices this season. Frazier had become concerned about the penalties the Vikings were taking and began talking to other coaches about how they approached the problem.

"One of the coaches I talked with mentioned that they had tried to use officials in practice and he saw a dramatic decrease in their penalties," Frazier said. "I said, 'That's not a bad idea. Maybe that might help us.' I talked to our ownership about it because those (officials) aren't going to volunteer their time and they were willing to support it.

"I think having those officials there has helped us, along with our players being more conscious. But (they are) probably being more conscious because those officials are there and they will call penalties in practice."

The Vikings also hired retired NFL referee Bernie Kukar as a consultant. Kukar observed minicamps and training camp and attempted to help players and coaches get a better feel for the rules at that time. On game days, he works from the coaches' booth.

"He's helped tremendously," Frazier said. "Meeting with our coaches, giving little mini-clinics in training camp with our team and our coaches. So, it has helped a lot and if our ownership had balked at that (suggestion) it may not have become as good as it has. But I think where we are penalty-wise is a direct reflection of the commitment that was made from the top."

Griffen matures

There appears a good chance Everson Griffen will start at left defensive end on Sunday, given that Brian Robison is dealing with a Grade 3 sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder.

Griffen, a fourth-round pick in 2010, replaced Robison in the first quarter last Sunday in the Vikings' 36-22 victory at St. Louis and had a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Frazier, however, doesn't mention Griffen's performance on the field, or his career-high five sacks this season, as much as he does the maturity the third-year player has shown.

Griffen was considered a first-round talent coming out of Southern Cal, but questions about him off-the-field caused him to drop in the draft. He did himself no favors by being arrested twice in three days after his rookie season.

But this season Griffen has had no incidents and he also has had to deal with the sudden death of his mother, Sabrina Scott, who died in October at the age of 52 while visiting her son in the Twin Cities.

"He's come so far. I talk to him about it often," Frazier said. "Just seeing the maturation, even through this offseason. Being able to manage his free time, understanding what it means to become a pro and act like a pro, both at practice and in games as well, and off the field. He's one of those guys who has really bought into the right way of doing things. There are other guys you can talk to about, 'This is how it has to be,' and they are going to do it their way.

"But he's one of those guys who has paid attention, he's listened and we always knew he was a good athlete. But just being able to manage some of the other things that were happening in his life. He's got a hold of maturing and it's great to see. He's a great example for a lot of young players who come in our league. He's really grown up."

Frazier said he was really impressed with how Griffen handled things when his mother passed away.

"That was hard," Frazier said. "But the way he responded, even in the midst of that tragedy, you just take your hat off to him. How courageous he is, and I've told him that I know his mother would be extremely proud of him and the way he's handled himself. He's come a long ways."

Looking to return

Cornerback Chris Cook was not on the injury report after Wednesday's practice and appears set to return Sunday from the broken right arm that he suffered Oct. 26 against Tampa Bay. The injury landed him on the NFL's injured reserve list that includes the designation to return.

"I'm hoping that as the week goes on he's feeling more comfortable and confident about where he is physically and feeling up to the challenge of getting out there and playing in the game," Frazier said. "We'll have to wait and see how he does during the course of the week."

Cook, who is expected to play with a wrap on the arm, doesn't know if he will play Sunday, although it certainly looks that way. "That's between them, the coaches when they have their coaches' meetings," he said. "I'm expecting to play. I'm doing everything I can out here on the practice field to prepare to play. I'm just ready to go."

Cook said he is full go at this point, but Frazier said no decision has been made on whether the veteran will start.

"It would be hard to determine that (Wednesday)," Frazier said. "I need to watch him move around and get engaged in the game plan to see how he does. We'll have a better indication probably by Friday but that would be good if it happened."

Said Cook: "I just want to come back and play. If I come in on third downs, special teams, whatever, I just want play."

A tough foe

The Texans (12-2) have the NFL's seventh-ranked defense and run a 3-4 system that features standout defensive end J.J. Watt, who is tied with San Francisco's Aldon Smith for the NFL sacks lead with 19.5.

"(They are a) 3-4 that we're going to try to treat differently than a 3-4," Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said. "A lot of man coverage, some quarters and some other stuff they'll mix in. ... They are really good at what they do. They create turnovers. We're going to have to have a great week of preparation and put in a lot of extra of work to get ready for this.

"We're going to have to win outside. Obviously, I think their No. 1 goal is going to be to stop Adrian (Peterson). We're going to have to take advantage of that in the passing game and we'll see what they end up doing."

Peterson, who leads the NFL in rushing with 1,812 yards, spends his offseasons in the Houston area and figures to have plenty of friends and family at this game. While Peterson has run for more than 100 yards in eight consecutive games and will be chasing the 2,000-yard mark in this game, his assignment won't be an easy one.

The Texans are fifth in the NFL against the rush and 18th against the pass. The Vikings, however, are fourth in rushing but 32nd and last in the NFL in passing the ball. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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