Leslie Frazier (Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire)
Vikings players were given Monday off, but will have to compress their practice schedule for a Thursday game. It will be a physical and mental challenge for the Vikings and Buccaneers. Plus, Frazier rethinks his end-of-half strategy, said Ponder didn’t lose confidence after throwing two interceptions, and Frazier updated the injuries.
The Vikings have won four of their last five games, but they will have to put it all behind them quickly and move forward with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game plan.
With the new NFL Network schedule requiring every team to play at least one Thursday night game, the Vikings’ turn arrives Thursday, four days after their 21-14 win against the Arizona Cardinals.
“It’s definitely different than what you’d ordinarily have to do, as a player and a coach. But both teams are under the same constraints, with the difference being one team (the Bucs) has to travel on Wednesday and one doesn’t,” Leslie Frazier said. “You know that, so you just try to prepare your team as best you can. But it’s not what you’re accustomed to, by any means.”
Players normally come in for treatment of injuries on Mondays, have Tuesday off and get into the heart of their film work and practices on Wednesdays and Thursdays, then have a shorter practice on Fridays. Saturdays are reserved for a walk-through and travel, if needed.
This week, however, players were given Monday off and will essentially go through the compressed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday routines on Tuesday. Wednesday will be treated mostly like a Saturday.
“You have to really be smart in your preparation of how you’re going to get that done without overtaxing them mentally, but yet getting them where they need to be physically to go out and play on a football game on a Thursday,” Frazier said. “For some guys, Thursday is their day to really get back to practice, because Wednesday is a day where they’re just beginning to have their bodies awaken in some ways. So it’s definitely a different mindset. It’s a different approach and you have to adjust, but all the teams that are playing on Thursday night are doing the same thing.”
Rookie Harrison Smith has never been through such a short turnaround from one game day to the next. He knows the learning curve with film work on Tampa Bay will be ratcheted and compressed on Tuesday and Wednesday, but players also have to deal with the physical challenge of trying to get their bodies to respond on a tight schedule.
“Usually you’re still kind of shaking off some of the injuries by Thursday,” Smith said. “Just spend some extra time in the training room and get ready to play.”
The Vikings are in relatively good health. While they didn’t practice Monday, they were required to put out an injury report estimating who would have participated and to what extent if they had practiced. It can be used as a barometer for what Tuesday’s practice should look like.
RB Adrian Peterson (ankle), DE Jared Allen (groin), CB Antoine Winfield (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion) and LT Matt Kalil (lower back) wouldn’t have practiced Monday, while safeties Harrison Smith (calf) and Mistral Raymond (ankle) would have been limited. S Robert Blanton (hamstring), LB Marvin Mitchell (calf), QB Christian Ponder (knee), RB Matt Asiata (knee) and DT Fred Evans (knee) were also listed on the injury report.
“You have to be smart as a player. You’ve got to get your rest where you can and take care of your body,” Frazier said. “You’ve got a short recovery time, and you’ve just got to be smart with what you do with your time away from this building.”
Ponder produced the worst passer rating of his young career when he has thrown more than 10 passes. On Sunday, he completed 8 of 17 passes for 58 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a 35.5 rating, but Frazier said he wasn’t concerned that Ponder’s confidence was shaken.
“He’s so different (from) a year ago when it comes to negative plays. I’ve seen it and we’ve all seen it over these first seven games where he’s had some bad plays and he’s bounced back,” Frazier said. “... He’s done a good job. (Sunday) was a tough day against a very, very good defense, but he’s not the same Christian Ponder that he was a year ago. I’m convinced of it and I’ve seen enough evidence of it in practice and even in games where he’s bounced back from some tough plays.”
The Arizona Cardinals used a healthy dose of blitzes against Ponder, sending five or more rushers on 12 of Ponder’s 18 drop-backs (he ran for 2 yards on one designed pass). He was sacked three times, including one in which the Cardinals sent seven defenders after him. However, Frazier doesn’t believe the pressure got to Ponder.
“Any time you get pressure at quarterback, it can cause some of those moments where you are uncomfortable. But I thought he handled the pressure well for the most part,” Frazier said. “A couple of the throws were a little bit errant. But they did a good job of rushing throughout the day. And for the most part, I thought we handled it pretty well.”
Given the chance to revisit how he handled the end of the first half, Frazier admitted he would probably do things differently. The Vikings received the ball on their 13-yard line with 50 seconds left in the half. Ponder started with a 2-yard run and the Vikings didn’t get the ball snapped again until 19 seconds remained. Ponder threw a 6-yard pass to Percy Harvin and the Vikings called their second timeout with 14 seconds left.
Ponder threw a third-down interception to Sam Acho with five seconds left. Fortunately for the Vikings, Jay Feely pushed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide right – Frazier could be seen thanking the heavens for the miss.
“Probably looking back at it, it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do,” Frazier said Monday. “We probably could have went in at the half and taken that 14-7 lead and say, ‘Hey, let’s just start the second half.’ We could do something different in that situation rather than put him in a situation where he has to try and make a play. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably do something different.”
Frazier said Peterson’s ankle is progressing: “He’s a little sore, but not as sore as he was a week ago Monday. So that’s encouraging. So we’ll be smart tomorrow getting him ready to go on Thursday.”
Carlson and Raymond are the only Vikings players expected to miss Thursday's game with injuries.
The NFL released the playoff scenarios if the season would have finished Monday and the Vikings were the fifth seed in the NFC. The Bears and Packers would also be in the playoffs if the season had ended after Sunday’s games.
The Bucs’ injury report isn’t as extensive as the Vikings’. LB Andrew Hayward (ankle), WR Vincent Jackson (calf), CB Brandon McDonald (ankle) and G Carl Nicks (foot) are all dealing with injuries that could limit them in practice this week.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.