Here’s a trivia question to stump even the most die-hard Purple fan:
What is the preseason record for quarterback completion percentage? (Yes, the team keeps preseason records)
Answer: Rich Gannon (1992) 71.7.
But you better use that one quickly because the Vikings have not one, but two guys chasing that number this preseason. Yes, it’s very exciting.
Teddy Bridgewater is at 78.6 percent. His backup, Shaun Hill, is at 73.1 percent.
“Right now, I am in the position where I’m just the guy who distributes the football,” Bridgewater said after Saturday night’s 20-12 win over the Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium. “Whether that is throwing a hitch route or a flare out of the backfield, I want to be perfect. That’s the mindset, but no one is every going to be perfect.”
There’s no question the NFL as a whole is becoming a more precise passing league. Ken Anderson’s completion percentage of 70.6 stood alone as the single-season record from 1982 until Drew Brees tied it in 2009. Brees then bettered that mark in 2011 (71.2).
The Vikings’ single-season record is 69.2 by Daunte Culpepper in 2004. That also ranks tied for ninth in league history with, yep, Drew Brees.
Bridgewater said the goal in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system is higher than 70 percent.
“Something always comes up, the receiver could slip running a route or you could get hit throwing the ball, but I think we try to aim to be over 70 percent in the quarterback room,” he said. “That’s one of our goals. We take pride in completion percentage, we take pride in taking care of the football and commanding the offense. It’s going to be a fun year. I have a ton of weapons at my exposure; and I can’t wait to get everyone going.”
Blair Walsh is struggling. This isn’t a new thing, but now that he’s 2-for-6 in the preseason on field-goal attempts and missed one of those expanded 33-yard extra points against the Raiders the other night, it’s officially a concern of Mike Zimmer and the rest of the Vikings staff. Walsh was also the league’s least-accurate kicker last season (74.3 percent), but the Vikings showed faith in him this past offseason by signing him to a long-term contract.
What’s going on with Walsh? Let’s take a closer look at his struggles:
THEORY ONE: Kicking outdoors is messing with him. For the first two years of his pro career (2012 and 2013), Walsh’s home field was the friendly confines of the Metrodome. Knowing your kicking conditions will be the same no matter what is a nice feeling, and Walsh capitalized: He didn’t miss a single field goal in the Dome as a rookie in 2012 and missed just two in 2013 — a 57-yarder and a 55-yarder, both excusable misses.
Last season, with his home field moved outside, Walsh missed four field goals at TCF Bank Stadium. He actually was MORE accurate outside than inside last year (21 for 27 outside, 77.8 percent and 5 for 8 inside, 62.5 percent), but the three inside misses were all in one game in Detroit. One was a 53-yarder; one was a 26-yarder that was blocked; and the last was a ridiculous 68-yarder.
For his career, Walsh is an 88.4 percent kicker inside domes and retractable roof stadiums, whereas he is 80.4 percent outside. This dichotomy is not just isolated to Walsh; a Harvard Sports Analysis study in 2009 concluded, not surprisingly, that “there is a strong association between kicking indoors and greater FG success.” And for 2014 and 2015, Walsh has eight more guaranteed games outside than he did in 2012 and 2013.
Some kickers, of course, are good no matter what. But if you’re used to a Dome, kicking outside — wind, damp field, etc. — can be a challenge. Greg Zuerlein of the Rams, who has had his home games in a dome for the past three seasons, is an 88.7 percent kicker in domes and a 71.0 percent kicker outside in that span.
The bad news if this theory is solid — and it appears there is a decent amount of merit to it — is that Walsh has to kick outside again this year (his rough preseason game the other night, of course, was in TCF Bank Stadium). The good news is that this is only temporary and he will be back kicking inside next year at the new Vikings stadium.
THEORY TWO: Walsh is just flat-out streaky, going back to his college days at Georgia. He was 15-for-23 on field goals as a freshman (65 percent), then a combined 40 for 45 as a sophomore and junior before slumping to just 21 for 35 (60 percent) as a senior. Kickers go through funks. Maybe that’s all it is?
THEORY THREE: A new holder in 2013 and inconsistencies with the snapper/holder/kicker progression have hurt Walsh. Walsh’s best year as a pro by far came in 2012 as a rookie and with former P Chris Kluwe holding (remember, he only missed three FGs all year and was a perfect 10 for 10 from 50 yards or more).
That said, after Kluwe was replaced as punter and holder by Jeff Locke in 2013, Walsh still had a respectable season: 26 for 30 on field goals, with three of the four misses coming from 50 or more. Locke, though, has been the holder in times of struggle (2014 and this preseason) as well.
What about the snapper? After all, the Vikings did just release longtime long snapper Cullen Loeffler in favor of Kevin McDermott. You don’t change that up if it’s working. Zimmer on Monday talked about Loeffler, offering a mixed bag in regards to his snaps this preseason: “A couple of them were high. There was about two of them on the two extra points, the two field goals, were a little high, but they were manageable for sure. No, releasing Cullen Loeffler had nothing to do with what happened the other night. It’s a process of what happened during training camp this whole time.”
As for why the move was made now, Zimmer said: “Basically it was to get the timing down between the center, holder and the kicker and the punter.”
In short: Loeffler wasn’t perfect, but that doesn’t let the rest of the chain of command (Locke and Walsh) off the hook for a bad night. And it should be noted that Loeffler was the snapper when Walsh was at his best, too.
THEORY FOUR: His confidence is down, and it’s affecting his mechanics. Of Walsh’s missed kicks the other night, Zimmer said, “it looked like he rushed one,” though he couldn’t identify a common thread between all the misses.
That said, rushing kicks was identified as a problem for Walsh coming out of college and was attributed to his senior year struggles. This is from a Star Tribune story in the 2012 preseason:
Despite leaving Georgia as the SEC’s all-time leading scorer, Walsh had to climb out of a noticeable mental funk. “There wasn’t a specific point or a game last year where I felt my confidence dip,” he said. “It just wasn’t right all year. And I just couldn’t get my form back.” Throughout the predraft process, Walsh regained his swagger. And since being drafted, he has invested endless time with special teams coach Mike Priefer cleaning up his mechanics.Priefer asked Walsh to slow down his approach, feeling as if the rookie rushed too many kicks in 2011, often not allowing his holder to get the ball down in the right spot with an ideal tilt. “You need that rhythm with the snap, the hold and the kick,” said Chris Kluwe, the Vikings’ punter and holder on kicks. “And I think slowing Blair down just that tenth- or two-tenths of a second has made a difference. He doesn’t feel like he’s hurrying coming through the ball.“
It seems entirely plausible that rushing is again hurting Walsh. The temptation when you struggle at anything is to press, which is the opposite of what you should do.
BEST GUESS: Kicking outside, particularly in a stadium noted for tricky winds like TCF Bank, has impacted some of Walsh’s kicks directly (by pushing them around) and indirectly (by playing with his head). But he says he feels as though he’s kicked well in training sessions, an assessment corroborated by our own Matt Vensel.
In the long term, returning inside for home games next year should cure a lot of Walsh’s ills. When you feel confident, mechanics seem to fall into place.
In the short term, Walsh and the Vikings need to hope that the kicking game rounds into shape in 2015 — and does not derail what in many ways looks to be a promising season.
A few of the highlights from coach Mike Zimmer’s press conference held not long ago ….
– On why the team released long snapper Cullen Loeffler at this point in the preseason: “Basically, it was to get the timing down between the center, holder and kicker and punter.”
– On whether the decision had anything to do with kicker Blair Walsh missing three field goals and a PAT on Saturday night: “No, they were good snaps the other night. … A couple of them were high. There were about two of them on the extra point and field goals that were a little bit high. They were manageable for sure. Releasing Cullen Loeffler had nothing to do with what happened the other night. It was the process of what happened in training camp this whole time.”
– On why Kevin McDermott won the long-snapper battle: “He was faster with his snaps. He was more accurate with his snaps. We charted every one.”
– On whether there was a common thread in Walsh’s misses on Saturday: “It looked like he rushed one, but other than that, no, not really.”
– On linebacker Anthony Barr’s first preseason action coming off knee issues that sidelined for the first two games: “He did all right for the first time out. He didn’t do anything real spectacular. I think he needs to get back into the game tempo a little bit more. There were a couple of times when he didn’t flash like he normally flashes. I think physically he’s fine. It’s just the extra burst you need to have during games.”
– On rookie second-round draft pick Eric Kendricks’ first preseason start at middle linebacker in the base 4-3 defense on Saturday: “I think he did good. Yesterday, [defensive coordinator] George [Edwards] and [linebackers coach] Adam [Zimmer] and [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and myself sat down and put all the middle linebackers on a tape and watched every play. Just to get a gauge to see where we’re at throughout the whole course of the preseason. As for the other night, [Kendricks] fitted one thing wrong and then they ran basically the same play later and he got it right after we corrected it on the sideline. For the most part, he did all right.”
– Zimmer said he’s made a decision on who will start at middle linebacker in Saturday night’s fourth preseason game at Dallas. But he wouldn’t share the information because he said he hasn’t told the players yet. Audie Cole started the first two preseason games. Kendricks, the preferred candidate, started the third one. Whoever starts the fourth one, bank on him being the starter heading into the preseason since the Vikings are likely to rest several starters in the preseason finale the next week.
– Being this close to the first cutdown date, Zimmer said the team isn’t likely to fill Loeffler’s spot on the 90-man roster.
Randy Moss is 38 years old and hasn’t played an NFL game since 2012, when he caught just 28 passes with the 49ers. But Moss also fits into that special category of “never say never” because of his freakish athletic talent and whimsical personality. As such, when he starts making noise about a comeback … well, it’s at least appropriate to listen. And he did just that Sunday on FOX. Pro Football Talk notes the exchange:
“I actually have not lost the itch,” Moss told Curt Menefee of FOX. “I’ve been working out with a few guys over the offseason. I have been retired for the last two years, but you never know, Curt. But it’s the love of the game that I still have inside of me.”
Replied Menefee: “That’s not a commitment that you’re gonna be here beside us the rest of the year. It doesn’t sound like it. Are you thinking [about a return to football]?”
Said Moss with a big smile, “Hey, I don’t know. The sky’s the limit for me, Curt. So we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Look: Moss hasn’t really been a big-time factor as an NFL receiver since 2009, his last 1,000-yard season (with New England). The next year began the down slide, including his ill-fated and short-lived (although awesome in some ways, still) return to the Vikings.
But belief is a powerful thing. And Moss has never been short on belief in his own abilities. The heart wants what it wants. And if Moss wants to play … well, he might get to play.
When Brett Favre came to the Vikings in 2009 (and, in fact, played with Moss a year later), I think a lot of us learned that nothing should be ruled out. Kevin Garnett’s return to the Timberwolves last year cemented that fact.
Moss is, after all, younger than Favre was when the ol’ gunslinger crossed over to the other side of the Vikings/Packers rivalry. And if Moss is going to come back, the team that might actually make the most sense is the Packers.
Star receiver Jordy Nelson was injured Sunday, with the fear being that he suffered a torn ACL. If Moss is going to come back, it’s with a proven QB like Aaron Rodgers, in a situation where he might win a Super Bowl. For as much as we kid about Green Bay, the Packers certainly fit that description.
Favre in Purple. Moss in green. Why not, right? It would just add one more level to the rivalry.
The Vikings have released longtime long snapper Cullen Loeffler. Kevin McDermott will be the team’s long snapper to open the 2015 season.
“I am forever grateful for my time in Minnesota and the opportunity to be a Viking for so long,” Loeffler wrote on Twitter this morning. “It has been a great run. Thank You!”
Loeffler was the longest-tenured Vikings player, having been with the team since 2004, when he signed as a rookie free agent out of Texas.
He appeared in 171 games over that span, missing just five total games.
Loeffler was uncharacteristically erratic last season, the lowest point coming when his low snap directly resulted in a blocked punt that bounced through the end zone for a safety in the late stages of the Dolphins loss.
For the first time since 2005, the Vikings brought in competition for Loeffler. And after just three preseason games, the Vikings decided to go with the 25-year-old McDermott, who was a teammate of punter Jeff Locke at UCLA.
“These types of decisions are the hardest part of our jobs,” General Manager Rick Spielman said this morning in a statement. “Cullen was outstanding in the community and on the field for the Vikings. He handled his business with class and his impact in the locker room and on the franchise were second to none. We wish him the best in the future.”
Because he didn’t last in the majors, and because he became the manager of a franchise featuring the motto “Fun is good,” it has been easy to forget that the Saints' George Tsamis is a serious competitor.
No one’s quite sure how long it will take to polish Cordarrelle Patterson’s raw ability, so, he appears to be a role player without much of a role behind Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace and Jarius Wright.