Vikings need more from red zone offense

Vikings need more from red zone offense

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Vikings have been struggling to put the ball in the end zone when they get within striking distance for most of the season. It finally caught up with them last weekend against Washington.

The Vikings had to settle for field goals on their first three possessions despite driving inside the 10-yard line each time. Instead of putting some serious cushion between themselves and the Redskins, they led just 9-0 and allowed Robert Griffin III to hang around in a game Washington won 38-26.

It's been a recurring problem this year for the Vikings, who rank 17th in the league in scoring touchdowns inside the 20. Perhaps the only thing more troubling for the Vikings on Sunday was how often do-it-all star Percy Harvin was watching from the sideline during those critical plays.

Harvin wasn't on the field for five of the nine plays the Vikings ran in those three possessions.

``That's just the way the personnel groups went and that was part of our plan,'' offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said, ``which we're not proud of.''

Harvin leads the NFL in receptions and has emerged as an early MVP candidate while becoming an indispensable component of both the offense and special teams. Musgrave has shown impressive creativity in how he uses Harvin this season, lining him up in the backfield for handoffs, splitting him out wide to go down the field and lining him up in the slot for bubble screens.

So if the Vikings (4-2) are going to find a solution to their red zone difficulties this week against Arizona (4-2), Harvin will likely have to play a prominent role in the game plan.

``Hoping to use him down there both run game and play action when he's in the backfield,'' Musgrave said. ``So we just want to make those plays work better next time or call them at the right time like we didn't on Sunday.''

Blair Walsh kicked field goals on all three of those drives on Sunday, and the Vikings scored just two touchdowns in seven trips inside the 20 against the Redskins. So it's no surprise that has been the big focus in practice this week as they prepare to face a stingy Cardinals defense.

``A lot of things went wrong, both conceptually and also execution-wise,'' Musgrave said. ``We've really doubled our efforts. We always like to work hard and leave no stone unturned, but this week, it's definitely a point of emphasis so we can take advantage of those opportunities because those take hard work to get down there in the first place.''

The Vikings also saw the Redskins become galvanized after their defense made three straight stands. Instead of being able to put the game away early and make it easier on their defense to attack RGIII, Washington was buoyed by its defense.

``It was definitely frustrating,'' Harvin said. ``You could potentially come away at 21-0 and completely shut the game off. I think that would have changed their whole game plan. But we didn't get that done. And it came back on us.''

The Redskins were also able to take away tight end Kyle Rudolph, one of Christian Ponder's favorite targets. Ponder said there were a few plays he would have liked to have back on those first three series, including an early throw to Devin Aromashodu on the first drive and failing to check the ball down to an open Adrian Peterson on the second. He said there's no need to panic at 4-2, just refine what they're doing.

``We're not going to change our red zone scheme. We just have to do what we're doing better and get better at it,'' Ponder said. ``We're not going to put extra focus on it, obviously we need to improve and we need to focus on that, but we're not going to try anything crazy different.''

The Cardinals come in having lost two straight games after a 4-0 start, and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier doesn't want to see his offense sputter in scoring range again and give another opponent reason to believe it has a chance.

``When that happens, when you get thwarted like we did in the red zone, you look at everything,'' Frazier said. ``What we're calling, the plays that we're running, how we're running those plays.

`We really stress not kicking field goals and trying to get touchdowns, even if we get one touchdown in one of those three situations, it's probably going to affect the way they're going to call the game on the other side at that point. But it didn't happen, so yes, we're going to go through it with a fine toothed comb on what we could have done better.''

NOTES: RB Adrian Peterson (ankle), WR Jerome Simpson (lower back) and DE Jared Allen (groin) were all listed as probable on the injury report. Peterson did not practice the first two days as a precaution, but returned to practice on Friday. Simpson was able to practice all week after missing last week with numbness in his leg caused by a lower back issue. Coach Leslie Frazier said both are expected to start on Sunday.


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Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still cant John Wall on his podcast

USA Today

Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still cant John Wall on his podcast

Just one episode into his new podcast 'Go Off,' Wizards guard Austin Rivers is already learning plenty about the media world. With plans to become a television analyst when his playing days are done, Rivers is gaining a new appreciation for what it takes to speak at-length without stumbling over his words.

He's also starting to realize one of the biggest pain points for a media member: waiting on guests. Rivers has tried to line up interviews with his teammates and it's been much easier said than done.

Rivers is set to have Dwight Howard on as his first guest, but the original plan was point guard John Wall. Wall, though, has been giving him the runaround.

"That's the hardest thing is getting guests to show up," Rivers said. 

"It's impossible to get John on my podcast. At this point, I just don't expect it anymore. He says he'll do it next week and then the week comes. John has like 15 things to do a day. I don't know what these guys do. I play in the league, too. I know how un-busy my life is outside of this. And I've got a kid. John has a brand to run. He's a different level. Sorry, you can see the frustration on my face with not getting John on my podcast, man."

Rivers hopes to have many of his teammates on. He mentioned Kelly Oubre Jr. and how an interview with Oubre "might be a little out there." He also gave a hint about what his conversation with Howard will be like.

"I'm definitely gonna have some interesting topics to bring up with Dwight. I told him 'listen, you might want to check with your publicist before coming on my podcast.' We only talk about real conversations on here," Rivers said.

Rivers says he plans to start with fellow NBA players and then work in special episodes with guests outside of the league and even outside of basketball. He hopes to record an episode with financial advisors to talk about money and investments. He wants to take a deep dive into the AAU circuit and how it can be fixed.

Eventually, Rivers wants to aim very high with his guests. He gave a list of his dream interviews and there are some big names.

"Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade is my favorite player. I'm gonna get Dwyane Wade on my podcast, for sure. I'm gonna go ahead and put that out there," Rivers said.

"Off-the-court, I would love to get Denzel Washington on there. That would be my dream... I want to do a podcast with me and my dad and Jaden Smith and Will Smith. I think that would be really dope, talking about parent-to-son success and how he related to his son to have a work ethic and how my dad did it to me."

Rivers went even higher. He wants to interview a president.

"I guess if I could go the highest, I would go Jay-Z or [Barack] Obama. But let's be realistic, here," Rivers said.

"[Interviewing Obama] would be incredible, bro. I would be so nervous. I'm not there yet, I'll be honest. I need like six or seven or eight more podcasts before I can get Obama on there because I'm gonna be stuttering. I can't do it with Obama yet. I don't know if I could handle Denzel right now."


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Capitals prospect report: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby goes home

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Capitals prospect report: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby goes home

Early in October, reports began popping up saying Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was headed back to his native Sweden to play for Djurgardens IF in the SHL. Those reports were refuted by the team which said that he remained in Hershey and had no plans to return to Sweden at that time.

Just over a month later and Jonsson-Fjallby’s move back to Sweden is official. On Tuesday, the Capitals announced he had been loaned to Djurgardens IF.

Jonsson-Fjallby scored two goals and three points in 15 games with the Bears.

While Jonsson-Fjallby was technically loaned by the Caps, it seems clear going back to Sweden was his decision. Capitals Outsider quotes a Bears spokesperson saying, “We are obviously disappointed, but it was Axel’s contractual right.”

To be fair, Jonsson-Fjallby was adjusting to a new country. That’s difficult. You do not know what a player’s specific situation is when it comes to family or how he is adjusting to living in a new place. Having said that, this was not a good move in terms of his NHL career.

Adjusting to the North American game takes time. Going back to Sweden to play the European game obviously delays that transition.

Not every player has to go to the AHL to adjust. Evgeny Kuznetsov was talented enough that the Caps were willing to bring him along straight from the KHL to the bottom six in the NHL as he adjusted and developed. Jonsson-Fjallby, however, is not Kuznetsov.

When Jonsson-Fjallby is finally ready to return to North America, he will now have to start the process of adjusting to the North American game again, putting him behind all the players in the system that are there now.

He may feel like it is the right move to return home personally, but in terms of his hockey career, this was a step in the wrong direction.

Other prospect notes:

  • Jonas Siegenthaler made his NHL debut on Friday with both Brooks Orpik and John Carlson out with injuries. He was impressive in his first game playing alongside Madison Bowey. He played in his second game on Wednesday which ties him for the franchise lead in games played by a Swiss-born player. He remains with the Caps on their current road trip.
  • llya Samsonov started in both of Hershey’s games over the weekend with Vitek Vanecek still out with an upper-body injury. Samsonov won one of those two games bringing his record for the season to 3-5.
  • Nathan Walker returned to Hershey after the Caps placed him on waivers. He scored in his very first game back on Saturday against Springfield. He also got into a fight in his second game back on Sunday.
  • Riley Barber had no goals in the first six games of the season. Now he has five in the past seven. Over the weekend, Barber recorded a goal and an assist in both of Hershey’s games. He now leads the team in points with 11 and sits third in goals behind Liam O’Brien (7) and Mike Sgarbossa (6).
  • Tyler Lewington has racked up 454 career penalty minutes with Hershey, passing Don Cherry who had 424 while with the Bears. He currently sits second in the AHL in penalty minutes with 54. A lot of fans like Lewington because he is not afraid to drop the gloves, but not all of those minutes are from fighting. Lewington also leads the league in minor penalties with 12.
  • With his goal Friday in a win over Rensselaer, Chase Priskie became Quinnipiac’s all-time leading scorer among defensemen with 29 goals. “It’s great to be in the record books, but at the same time it’s the players that I’ve been able to play with for the last four years,” Priskie said. “Without them, a lot of those goals don’t happen and I can’t give enough praise to the guys I’ve been able to play with that have been able to get me the puck in the right situations. I’ve been able to do the easy part. I just try to come in and do whatever I can to help the team win.”