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Zimmer: Vikes “Uncharacteristic” Today

September 13, 2020 - (0) comments

 

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer—known for his no nonsense ways—was in character while making his postgame comments today after his team lost its opening game of the season to the Green Bay Packers, 43-34.

“We did a lot of things that were uncharacteristic,” Zimmer said on KFAN Radio. “We jumped off side three times. We had three penalties that extended drives. We let the quarterback get out of the pocket.

“We gave up a safety and then we throw an interception right before the half. …Our time of possession the first half was really lopsided—ended up for the game the same way. There’s a lot of things we gotta get better at, that’s for sure.”

The 43 points is the most scored on a Minnesota Zimmer team. In 2014, Zimmer’s first season, the Packers earned a 42-10 win in Green Bay. The Packers are the only team to put up 40 points against Zimmer during the last seven seasons. He has, of course, earned a NFL reputation (as both a coordinator and head coach) for being a gifted defensive instructor and schemer.

When asked about the record at his postgame press conference, Zimmer said: “It’s not the best thing. We didn’t play very well defensively. We didn’t make enough plays. Guys got out of position a couple of times. So we’ll just get back to work. We’ll be all right.’’

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was flawless directing the Green Bay offense. He looked cerebral in the pocket throwing pinpoint passes and was never sacked despite playing with an offensive line that in the second half was without three starters. The future Hall of Famer threw four touchdown passers, had a passer rating of 127.5 and deftly managed both the offense and the game clocks.

“I thought Rodgers was outstanding,” Zimmer said via radio. “He made some great throws. He did a nice job of checking out of things, and throwing the ball when we had pressure in there. He got us to jump offside three times, I think it was, with a hard count. Typically, you’re not going to get the hard count at home like that when you’ve got (noisy) fans here, but that’s no excuse.”

The Vikings played with several new starters on defense including inexperienced cornerbacks 24 years old and younger. They missed their departed 2019 mainstay pass rushers, Everson Griffen (now in Dallas) and the injured Danielle Hunter. Offensively, with star wide receiver Stefon Diggs traded to Buffalo in the offseason, the passing game was mostly quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver Adam Thielen who combined for two passing touchdowns.

Mike Zimmer

Zimmer indicated he and his players won’t panic or make too much out of one game and a loss. “There’s a lot of football left to be played, but we gotta get better quick,” he said at his press conference.

The Vikings came into the game as a 2.5 point favorite, with the over-under at 44.5.

The Vikings’ investment in Dalvin Cook’s new five-year contract announced Saturday can be viewed as more of an investment in the now than in the future. By signing Cook to a reported $63 million deal, with $28 million guaranteed, the Vikings avoid having a disgruntled potential team MVP in the locker room playing out the last year of his contract.

The Vikings are not in rebuilding mode and think they can be a playoff team in 2020. Their offense is built for running the football and the intent is for Cook to repeat his 1,135 yards rushing season of 2019. Even though Cook has a history of injuries and the average NFL RB lasts less than three years, the Vikings had little choice but  to sign the fourth year playmaker to market rate money.

Remembering Max McGee: It will be 13 years next month that the Minneapolis area businessman and former great receiver for the Packers died from an unexpected accident at age 75. McGee was also a longtime radio commentator on Packer games.

Twins in MLB’s Tightest Division Race

The Twins have the opportunity to take over first place in the AL Central in their four-game series that starts tomorrow night in Chicago against the first place White Sox. The Sox lead the division race by one game over the second place Twins and the third place Cleveland Indians are 4.5 games behind.

Minnesota’s Jose Berrios, 4-3, 4.40 ERA, and Chicago’s Dylan Cease, 5-2, 3.33 ERA, are the expected starters tomorrow night. Tuesday night’s Twins starter is yet to be announced, but staff ace Kenta Maeda, 5-1, 2.43 ERA, pitches the series finale Wednesday afternoon.

The Twins swept their three-game series at home against the Indians today with a 7-5 win. Minnesota hit 11 home runs in the series and is 21-5 at home, but 9-13 on the road, with manager Rocco Baldelli noting a few days ago the club plays with confidence in Minneapolis.

Twins reliever Trevor May (mild back cramps) and outfielder Eddie Rosario (left elbow contusion) left the game today with injuries. Both are listed as day-to-day.

Cleveland closer Brad Hand, the Chaska native, is the club’s nominee for the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award that recognizes character, community involvement, philanthropy and other positive contributions, both on and off the field.

Hand is one of baseball’s best closers and pitched a hitless eighth inning for the Indians today.

 

Football Likely Topic Now for U Regents

September 10, 2020 - 1 Comment

 

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents meets today and tomorrow, and discussion will certainly include the Big Ten’s decision to cancel or postpone the 2020 football season.  The group has not had a regularly scheduled meeting with school president Joan Gabel since the league announced last month the season would not start with scheduled games in September.

There has been a firestorm of criticism not only about the decision but also the absence of details that led to it.  It’s believed that even governing bodies such as the regents at Minnesota and other boards throughout the 14-member Big Ten haven’t been privy to what’s going on.

“I haven’t been told anything about how the decision was made, or if there was a vote,” Minnesota regent Michael Hsu told Sports Headliners.  “I don’t know.  I don’t know anything.”

Hsu said he has listened to contradictory information from Gabel. “So president Gabel told media that there was no vote per se in terms of the Big Ten decision to postpone or cancel football for the fall.  However, some weeks after she said that, the Big Ten…put out the news that the vote was 11-3. I don’t understand how if you didn’t have a vote, how you have an 11-3 vote.”

A spokesman for Gabel declined an interview opportunity yesterday, citing her busy schedule including preparation for the regents meeting and the opening of school this week. The agenda for the two-day regents meeting includes a “report of the president” Friday morning.

The opinion here is the Big Ten rushed its decision in halting football and other fall sports, and made the call without enough transparency.  The August 11 announcement came when there was still time to see how COVID-19 protocols would play out and what medical advances could make things safer.  In late August a new $5 test that gives fast results regarding COVID was announced, and news like that bolsters the decision of the ACC, Big-12 and SEC to play football and not sideline the sport like the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

Rumors are numerous the Big Ten will have a football restart including speculation last weekend that conference presidents were taking a vote.  Nothing has been documented regarding an approved plan to play again in the fall, winter or spring, but in the meantime there are a lot of players who want to play, coaches who want to coach and fans who want to watch.

Things have heated up politically, too, with Midwest Republican legislators, including from Minnesota, calling on the Big Ten to play football.  That could come up at the regents meeting this week as should discussion of the financial hit to Minnesota’s athletic department with no revenue from football.  Collectively, Big Ten athletic departments are projected to see red ink in the billions of dollars. Minnesota and other athletic departments face the possibility of cutting programs and turning to the outside for loans.

The U regents gathering this week is part of a regular schedule of meetings during the calendar year.  Some regents are expected to attend in-person at the McNamara Alumni Center, while others will participate via Zoom.

Worth Noting

With no verbal commits of late, and with other programs adding quality players, the Gophers have fallen to No. 27 in the class of 2021 football recruiting rankings by 247Sports.  Minnesota has been in the top 20 for most of the year.

Condolences to friend and former Gophers linebacker Pete Najarian whose father John recently passed away.  Pete’s mother Mignette died last year and he lost his brother Paul in 2014.

Mike Zimmer

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the NFL is allowing teams to have practice squad players available on game days.  Dan Bailey is the only kicker on the Vikings’ regular roster but if he was unable to play, coach Mike Zimmer could promote Chase McLaughlin from the practice squad.

The team doesn’t have a punter on the practice squad but Bailey has some experience in that role.  Regular punter Britton Colquitt, by the way, is the oldest Viking at 35.  Rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson is the youngest, turning 21 in June.

Greg Jennings, the former Viking and Green Bay receiver, will be part of the Fox TV crew describing Sunday’s game between Minnesota and the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Minnesota Twins had an off day yesterday and while their schedule doesn’t resume until Friday manager Rocco Baldelli said the team will have a “light workout” today.

With 15 games remaining on the regular schedule for the Twins, the three-game series with the Cleveland Indians that starts tomorrow night at Target Field will be pivotal in deciding who wins the AL Central Division.  Minnesota is 18-5 at home, while the Indians are 14-7 on the road.  This will be the last series between the two division contenders during the regular season.

That’s Alex Tuch, the former Minnesota Wild forward who Vegas acquired in the 2017 expansion draft, leading the Golden Knights in playoff goals with eight in 17 games.  Vegas and the Dallas Stars (originally the Minnesota North Stars) are tied at 1-1 in the Western Conference finals.

The Golden Knights, who have already played in one Stanley Cup final, are the most successful expansion franchise in modern sports history.

 

Looks Like 8-8 Record for Vikings

September 08, 2020 - (0) comments

 

Bob Lurstema’s insights about the Minnesota Vikings have proven accurate through the years, and perhaps never more impressive than in 2019 when he predicted a 10-win season for his former team. The Vikings went 10-6 last season, made the playoffs as a wild card entry and won a dramatic overtime game against the New Orleans Saints before being eliminated by the San Francisco 49ers in the postseason.

What say Lurtsema for 2020? “I go .500. I don’t expect them to rock and roll,” the former defensive lineman told Sports Headliners today.

The Vikings, who have finalized their roster to the NFL mandatory 53 players and open the season at noon Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Green Bay Packers, are among the youngest teams in the NFL. Minnesota, with an average age of 25.5 is tied for the fifth youngest spot with the Packers, per Phillyvoice.com (Sept. 5).

Youth and inexperience is more of a potential liability this year because COVID-19 eliminated preseason games and NFL teams have limited physical contact during practices. “Until you have live contact, you don’t know squat about your players,” Lurtsema said.

Tackling could be sloppy in early NFL games including by an inexperienced group of Viking cornerbacks. The CB roster features rookies Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney. Even a respectable start to the season doesn’t mean consistency, as other teams review tapes and see tendencies/weaknesses.

Bob Lurtsema

It’s a given that Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers will test Minnesota’s cornerbacks—likely early and often. A must-do for the defense is to respond all game with a strong pass rush likely led by sack specialists Danielle Hunter and newcomer Yannick Ngakoue.

Lurtsema is predicting the Packers will win the NFC North, with part of his assertion based on Rodgers—the future hall of fame quarterback. “I get a kick out of watching him,” Lurtsema said.

Another “green spot” for the Vikings is wide receiver, where the list of youthful players includes 21-year-old Justin Jefferson, the first player Minnesota chose in the 2020 draft. Lurtsema has long emphasized it takes a year or so for a quarterback and receiver to know each other’s tendencies. “He (Jefferson) has to be on the same page with (quarterback Kirk) Cousins. That does not come overnight,” Lurtsema said.

The absence of preseason games has Lurtsema concerned, too, about the number of injuries for NFL players, and how that develops could factor in the final results for the Vikings—good or bad. “It’s going to be way above normal (the incidence of injuries),” Lurtsema predicted.

Worth Noting

Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr, predicting online the 2020 records for every NFL team, wrote that the 8-8 Vikings will finish second in the NFC North to the 10-6 Packers. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, the division’s other two teams will have records of 6-10 and 4-12 respectively, according to Orr’s September 2 story.

This afternoon the Vikings brought their practice squad roster to the maximum 16 total by adding defensive tackle Albert Huggins, kicker Chase McLaughlin and linebacker Hardy Nickerson.

It might be that next year the Thursday night NFL national kickoff game for the 2021 season is held in Minneapolis to recognize George Floyd and the league’s social justice effort. This Thursday evening the spotlight game is in Kansas City where the Super Bowl champion Chiefs host the Houston Texans with NBC televising.

It is 50 years ago this month that immortal Packers coach Vince Lombardi died. A Sports Headliners reader sent this email quip: “…I know there have been reported ‘sightings’ of him near Lambeau Field since then, so I can’t confirm that he’s actually departed this world.”

Dan Chisena, the free agent wide receiver from Penn State who surprisingly made the Vikings’ 53-man roster, doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page. A college sprinter before turning to football for two seasons in 2018 and 2019, he played in 14 career games with two starts.

Ex-Gopher quarterback Chris Streveler, who excelled in Canada as a pro, made the Arizona Cardinals’ 53-man roster.

Former Gopher Carter Coughlin, a seventh round draft choice earlier this year by the New York Giants, made the team’s final roster as a linebacker and pass rushing specialist. Also with the Giants is ex-Gopher kicker and punter Ryan Santoso.

Coughlin’s former Eden Prairie High School teammate Ryan Connelly was cut by the Giants and signed with the Vikings. As a linebacker, the ex-Wisconsin player is part of the Viking practice squad.

Connelly’s cousin, Anders Lee, is captain of the NHL’s New York Islanders and the former Edina athlete can be a key contributor in the Stanley Cup playoffs from his forward position.

Twins slugger Josh Donaldson is selling his 5,539 square foot mansion in South Tampa, Florida, with an asking price of $3,499,000, per website Cltampa.com on September 4.

Former Hopkins girls basketball coach Brian Cosgriff talking in the September Sports Illustrated about phenom Paige Bueckers who is on the magazine’s cover: “The best thing I ever did was stay the hell out of the way.”

 

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