By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings are one of the good surprises of the 2012 NFL season, even after losing three of the last five games.
The Vikings (6-4) have defeated two teams that were considered Super Bowl contenders when the season began, including the San Francisco 49ers, who were at the time considered the best team in the NFC.
The Rising Players
The most obvious rising player is Adrian Peterson. Nothing he does should amaze anyone anymore, but every week, he finds a way. The sixth-year running back from the University of Oklahoma came back from a torn ACL in less than 12 months and carried the ball at least 15 times in all 10 games this season. He is the NFL’s leading rusher after posting at least 123 yards in each of the last four games, including three performances over 150. In the past he would post big numbers on a lot of carries, but in the last four games, he has averaged 7.67 yards per carry.
If Peterson continues on the pace he has set over the four games, he will finish the season with 2,071 yards (the NFL single season rushing record is 2,105 set by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984). Along with yardage, he is getting in the end zone. He has scored at least one touchdown in each of the last four games (five total scores in those games). He now has seven on the season.
On defense, Chad Greenway is the leader of the unit. He is a tackling machine as the league leader with 99 (eight ahead of second place Jerod Mayo of the New England Patriots). The sixth-year linebacker from the University of Iowa only posted five tackles in last Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions, but had 13 in each of the previous two games and had not previously made less than seven in a game. Against the Lions, Greenway showed an ability to play in coverage against a prolific passing offense. The Vikings’ defense held Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to his lowest QBR in three weeks and Greenway was a big part of it.
The Falling Players
On offense, Percy Harvin missed the win over the Lions with an ankle injury. Injuries may be the reason, but the fourth-year receiver from the University of Florida has fallen out of the league lead for receptions to fifth, seven behind Reggie Wayne of the Indianapolis Colts. Harvin has made only 13 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the previous three games. All 13 receptions came prior to the injury late in the third quarter of the Week 9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. His lack of catches or Christian Ponder’s play got him fired up and yelling at head coach Leslie Frazier on the sideline in Seattle. Whether he is not getting open, the quarterback hasn’t looked his way or the play calling has not been designed to get him the ball, his production has slipped of late.
The Vikings defense was gashed in four straight games by the opposing running backs and a quarterback before Sunday’s win over the Lions. A big part of that was missed tackles and Harrison Smith’s dive toward the legs without wrapping up style, which really hurt in the secondary. The rookie from Notre Dame has racked up pretty big tackle numbers, but that has come because he has not been breaking up passes. When one thing goes wrong, it just kind of snowballs sometimes to other areas of a player’s game. That may have happened for Smith. The Vikings need him to break out of the funk and return to his physical safety presence that dislodged three passes against the Lions in Week 4, including one in the end zone that helped preserve a seven-point victory.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.