The Sports Xchange, Published November 14 2013
Vikings WR Simpson expected to play despite arrestWhile seemingly everything is going right for a 9-1 Seattle Seahawks team that's getting healthier and has the depth at cornerback to compensate for the loss of Brandon Browner, the Minnesota Vikings are 2-7 and can't seem to catch a break heading into Sunday's meeting at CenturyLink Field.
Fresh off their 34-27 victory over the Redskins last Thursday, the Vikings woke up Saturday morning to the news that Jerome Simpson, a starter and their leader in receiving yards, had been arrested for suspicion of DWI in downtown Minneapolis. Simpson was then charged with two counts on Wednesday.
Not exactly the news coach Leslie Frazier was expecting from a guy the team gave a second chance to before the 2011 season. Simpson came to the Vikings from Cincinnati, where he was convicted of a felony drug charge for possessing marijuana. Simpson originally was indicted on a drug-trafficking charge, but pled to a lesser felony.
The Vikings reached out to him because they were desperate for a receiver, supposedly convinced he would change and were willing to overlook the fact that he'd start the 2012 season by serving a three-game league-imposed suspension. Simpson was signed to a one-year deal, but had a disappointing, injury-plagued season.
Still needing depth at receiver heading into this season, the Vikings took yet another chance on Simpson and signed him to another one-year deal. Simpson responded by having a solid start to the season. He's second on the team in receptions (33), first in average per catch (14.9) and first in yards (491).
"It's very disappointing," Frazier said. "Anytime something negative happens that creates a negative light on our organization, on our team, it's a concerning matter. This case, it's very disappointing. But it happens and you have to be able to adjust and deal with it, and not let it set you back as a team or an organization. But without question it's disappointing."
Simpson apologized. Sort of.
"I sincerely apologize for the attention that I have brought to the fans, community and myself," he said.
Simpson, whose first court date is Dec. 11, faces further punishment from the league and the legal system since he was still on probation from his felony drug conviction. Meanwhile, the Vikings are in close contact with the league this week, asking what they can and can't do with regard to their own punishment of Simpson.
Frazier said Wednesday that Simpson is expected to play on Sunday. Asked if Simpson would remain his starter at the X position, Frazier hesitated and indicated that the team is preparing rookie first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson to start ahead of Simpson.
The team has been looking for ways to get Patterson on the field more. He leads the NFL in kickoff returns with a 35.2-yard average and two touchdowns, including an NFL-record 109-yarder. But as a receiver, he has only 18 catches and hasn't played more than 39.6 percent of the offensive snaps in any one game.
"We intended to continue to get him more reps, and you saw it in the Washington game and the prior one, trying to get him more reps," Frazier said. "That was a part of the plan anyway, and it definitely will be a part of the plan now, with some of the concerns that we have (with Simpson)."
In one fateful wrong decision, Simpson may have changed his future - at least with the Vikings - forever.
Except for running back Adrian Peterson, who will be relied on heavily at Seattle to control the clock and the game, Patterson is the Vikings' best playmaker. If he has a big game, Simpson may never start another game for the Vikings.
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 7-5. The teams have split their two meetings at CenturyLink Stadium. Seattle won there last year, 30-20, overcoming a 182-yard, two-touchdown effort by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Seattle also is one of only three teams that former Vikings coach Les Steckel beat during his one and only 3-13 season back in 1984.
• LG Charlie Johnson is no architectural genius, but he figures whatever they did to channel crowd noise downward at CenturyLink Field has to have been done on purpose.
"It really is (the loudest NFL stadium), to be honest with you," Johnson said. "Everywhere on the road is loud, but it's just something about that place. I guess they say they designed it that way and what not, but it really is the loudest place I've played."
CenturyLink not only is an open-air stadium, it's not fully encircled by seats. You'd think the noise would escape upwards, eh, Charlie?
"It feels the opposite," he said. "It feels like it's coming down, feels louder. I can't explain it, it's really loud."
Since 2002, the NFC's best home-field advantage belongs to the Packers, who are 65-28 (.699) at home. Next toughest is Seattle, which is 63-29 (.685) at home.
The Vikings' schedule the next two weeks: at Seattle, at Green Bay.
• The top two rushers in the league since the ninth week of the 2011 season are Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (3,402 yards) and the Vikings' Adrian Peterson (3,058). Of course, Peterson missed four games at the end of the 2011 season because of an ankle injury and torn knee ligaments.
"Lynch is a good one," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's got the power, he's got the ability to run through tackles. You don't see him get knocked down by one guy very often. He runs through contact often.
"He's more of a between-the-tackles type of runner. You'll see some runs on the perimeter, but more inside runs. Long runs. I think he's leading the league in 10-(yard)-plus runs. So he's a very impressive back. But Adrian? Adrian is in a class by himself. I have a lot of respect for Marshawn's talents and what he's accomplished. But there's only one Adrian Peterson."
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Number of Vikings return specialists who lead the NFL heading into Week 11. Cordarrelle Patterson leads all kick returners (35.2), while Marcus Sherels leads all punt returners (16.3).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not exactly sure who took the most, but Christian (Ponder) probably got the majority (of first-team reps). Glad to see he's feeling better." - Vikings QB Josh Freeman, inadvertently letting the proverbial cat out of the bag after Frazier was vague about the QB situation and Ponder ducked reporters following practice. Ponder is recovering from a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder suffered in the win over the Redskins last week.
VIKINGS PLAYER NOTES
• RB Adrian Peterson leads the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns. He needs one more to record at least 10 in each of his first seven NFL seasons. Peterson also caught his 200th career pass last week. He's the sixth Vikings running back to reach that total.
• TE John Carlson, a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2008, didn't play against his former team last year. He had a concussion. But this year, he's coming off one of the best games of his career and certainly the best as a Viking. He had seven catches for 98 yards and his first touchdown since the 2010 postseason. It was the first time he had seven catches in a game since 2009 and the 98 yards is the second-highest total of his career.
• QB Christian Ponder is the top quarterback in the league. Well, at least when it comes to rushing touchdowns. He had four in just six games this season.
• MLB Erin Henderson has led the Vikings in tackles in six of the Vikings' nine games this season. OLB Chad Greenway has led the team in tackles the past five years, but is second to Henderson this season. Henderson has 120 tackles, according to the Vikings. Greenway has 98.
• FS Andrew Sendejo recorded a career-high 16 tackles in last week's win over the Redskins. It was his fifth career start and fifth this season. He replaced SS Jamarca Sanford once earlier in the season and has filled in for FS Harrison Smith the past four games. Sendejo is still better suited, skill-wise, as a special teams player, but he does play hard and fast.
• QB Christian Ponder dislocated his non-throwing shoulder while diving for the goal line late in the third quarter of last week's win against Washington. The Vikings are hopeful that he'll play Sunday. He got some reps with the first unit on Wednesday. Coach Leslie Frazier said he hasn't decided whether Matt Cassel, who replaced Ponder on Thursday night and did well, or Josh Freeman would start if Ponder can't.
• CB Chris Cook (hip) missed last week's game, his second straight, but was able to practice on a limited basis leading up to Thursday's game. His status will be updated on Monday.
• SS Jamarca Sanford (groin) has missed two straight games and could be out for a while. He was replaced by Mistral Raymond, the worst defensive back on the roster. Raymond continues to take bad angles and miss tackles, turning what should be short gains into long ones.
• TE Kyle Rudolph fractured his left foot and will be out another three to five weeks. The No. 1 tight end job fell to John Carlson, who had his best game as a Viking with seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown last week.
• TE Rhett Ellison has missed the past three games and four on the season. He has a high ankle sprain. The Vikings are hoping to get him back because they'll need help at the position with Rudolph out for about a month or longer.
• RT Phil Loadholt (concussion) missed Thursday's game, only his second missed game in five seasons. His replacement, J'Marcus Webb, is a huge step down, but Webb did OK on Thursday after a terrible debut in Loadholt's place at Dallas last Sunday.
• LG Charlie Johnson (elbow) missed his first game in three years as a Viking on Thursday. Joe Berger, who is primarily a center, started in Johnson's place. He's a solid backup.
• NT Letroy Guion (chest/knee) missed Thursday's game and was replaced by veteran Kevin Williams, who slid over from the under tackle position. Williams responded with 2.5 sacks and might end up staying at nose tackle.
• NT Fred Evans (knee) missed the past two games. If he's out Sunday, it could also mean more snaps at nose for Williams.
GAME PLAN: It's pretty simple from a concept standpoint, but might be impossible from a reality standpoint. To beat the Seahawks in Seattle - where Russell Wilson is 12-0 in his career - the Vikings need huge days from Adrian Peterson and their suspect run defense. And even then, well, good luck upsetting the Seahawks at CenturyLink Stadium, which boasts the NFC's second-best winning percentage (63-29, .685) behind only Lambeau Field (65-28, .699) since 2002. A year ago, Peterson ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries (10.7) and the Vikings still lost at Seattle by 10 points (30-20). Yes, Christian Ponder played much better in a win over Washington last Thursday. But that was at home and against a much weaker defense than he'll face at Seattle. Ponder also is coming back from a dislocated left shoulder and, well, has never proven consistency in his career. So the Vikings need to control the clock with Peterson and stuff Marshawn Lynch to create favorable third-down situations. Otherwise, the score will get out of hand because Wilson will shred the Vikings pass defense if given favorable third-down situations.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Vikings MLB Erin Henderson vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch -- Much like stopping Adrian Peterson, it will take 11 defenders to corral "Beast Mode" when he gets rolling downhill and side to side. Since Week 9 of the 2011 season, only Lynch has more yards rushing among NFL players than Peterson. The Vikings credit Henderson with team highs in solo tackles (80) and total tackles (120). But they're also more than likely going to be in the market for a new man in the middle next year. Henderson doesn't establish a tone or a force inside against the run. This is his first year playing in the middle in the base defense. He's also prone to making mistakes in deep-middle responsibilities when the Vikings play Cover 2 in the nickel. Seattle, meanwhile, ranks No. 2 in rushing (153.4) while Lynch has 871 yards, a 4.6 average and seven TDs. If Lynch gets going, the Vikings will have absolutely no chance of breaking quarterback Russell Wilson's rhythm, which has been outstanding since he entered the NFL a year ago.
• Vikings CB Josh Robinson vs. Seahawks WR Percy Harvin -- Robinson, who has struggled tremendously in his first year of trying to replace Antoine Winfield, could get his toughest test of the season when he moves into the slot to cover Harvin in the nickel defense. The assumption is Harvin will make his Seahawks debut against his former team. He hasn't played since Week 9 at Seattle a year ago. An ankle injury wiped out what was going to be his best season. Then, after forcing his way out of Minnesota because of contractual reasons and personality conflicts, he missed Seattle's first 10 games this season. In the last 17 games, his teams are 14-3 without him (Vikings 5-2 last year, Seattle 9-1 this year), but Harvin will bring a burst of electricity, versatility and fresh legs to an already diverse offense. He and Winfield used to have great battles in training camp. Winfield taught Harvin a lot about playing in the slot. Unfortunately for the Vikings, Robinson, a second-year player who was selected in the third round a year ago, remains a greenhorn inside. His hands will be more than full trying to contain the quick, powerful and shifty Harvin.