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emains for the Minnesota Vikings to finish strong White LaAdrian Waddle Jerseys , none of their biggest tests have so far revealed a team playing like the championship contender it was built to be.The Vikings still have a better-than-average chance of returning to the playoffs, but for all the individual standouts on this roster there has not been enough collective evidence in 2018 that this is more than simply a better-than-average squad."Right now, we're kind of an up-and-down-team a little bit," coach Mike Zimmer said, "and that's the thing that frustrates me the most. We need to develop more consistency."The latest illustration of this second-tier status came on Sunday afternoon at New England, where the Patriots maintained their December mastery under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady with a 24-10 victory .There's no shame in losing on the road to the five-time champion Patriots, particularly when the score is tied at 10 in the final minute of the third quarter, but at some point to have legitimate Super Bowl hope a team has to beat a superior opponent in a challenging setting.The Vikings (6-5-1) have lost to four of the eight current division leaders this year, teams with a combined 38-10 record. The cumulative standing of their opponents in games they've won is 21-49-1 entering Philadelphia's game on Monday night. The Eagles are the only one with a shot at the postseason.Up next is a trip to Seattle, where the Seahawks (7-5) have won three straight games to take control of the first wild-card spot in the NFC."It's not over. We still have everything out there in front of us right now, but there definitely needs to be a sense of urgency on getting that done," running back Latavius Murray said.In five seasons under Zimmer, the Vikings are 2-9 on the road against teams that made the playoffs. Though the Eagles could add another win this year to the tally, Chicago and New England are likely to push that loss total to 11.These Vikings are well past the point of a still-developing team trying to find its way and learn how to succeed under the bright lights, and there's been no shortage of praise expressed by players about the chemistry in the locker room. Zimmer even said on Monday that he thought the practices last week were as sharp as ever.So while some of the moves made or not made by general manager Rick Spielman during the offseason could be fairly criticized, at least pertaining to the offensive line and the special teams, several questions have been raised in recent weeks about the in-game strategic approach by the coaching staff.Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has taken plenty of heat. Zimmer's long-dominant defense has displayed some uncharacteristic breakdowns in crucial spots. The most scrutiny, though, has fallen on first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.The Vikings have been held to under 300 total yards in three of their past four games, and against a Patriots defense that has allowed 30-plus points four times this season they were frequently stymied again.Balance has become a significant issue. The Vikings have the fourth-fewest rushing attempts and the third-most passing attempts in the NFL.Specific game scenarios have dictated some of this discrepancy. Three holding calls, for example, against the Patriots produced these undesirable situations: second-and-17, first-and-18, second-and-20. Many times, the holes in the middle of the line simply have not been there.Dalvin Cook, though, had a season-high 84 rushing yards at New England 鈥?on only nine carries. Zimmer has not been shy, either, about publicly expressing concern about the play calling."If I get five, I get 10, two, whatever, I'm just trying to make a play to help my team win," Cook said. "I wasn't surprised by anything that happened in the game. Coach Flip has been calling great calls all year."Zimmer said he felt the offense "might have panicked a little bit" after the Patriots took a 17-10 lead. On the first play, Kirk Cousins went deep for Aldrick Robinson, a throw that fell incomplete. After a 5-yard run by Murray, Cousins was sacked for a 10-yard loss.Despite his recent airing of discontent LaAdrian Waddle Jerseys 2019 , though, Zimmer offered at least a measured compliment for DeFilippo."I think he's doing a good job," Zimmer said. "We talk all the time. We talk about things, what I think are important, and I think he tries to do those." Heading into Super Bowl 53, most of the focus is on the battle between offense and defense. Will the New England Patriots be able to move the football against a star-strudded Los Angeles Rams unit? And will offensive coaching wunderkind Sean McVay be able to crack the riddle that Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ defense will present? The game-deciding play, however, may very happen in the oft-forgotten third phase: special teams.After a slow start into the season, New England’s kicking game units have performed well as of late — in part thanks to the in-season additions of Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber. The Rams have been solid all through the season, meanwhile, as Belichick made sure to point out during his press conference on Thursday. “Every kicking play is an explosive play potentially for the Rams,” said New England’s head coach.Statistically speaking, L.A. finds itself in a similar area than the Patriots when it comes to special teams performance. The team ranks 17th according to the DVOA statistic published by Football Outsiders, coming in one spot behind New England. The special teams rankings by veteran analyst Rick Gosselin of Football Maven have the Rams at ninth, one slot ahead of the Patriots this time.For Belichick, it all starts with Los Angeles’ kickers: punter Johnny Hekker and place kicker Greg Zuerlein. “The kickers have big legs,” the Patriots’ coach said. “Obviously, Zuerlein’s field goals were the difference in the championship game. Hekker’s a tremendous player, a great athlete. He’s a weapon. They block kicks, they return kicks and they have a fast coverage team that can change field position.”In general, field position will be a key when it comes to winning the Super Bowl. During the regular season, this is something Los Angeles performed well at: the team started its average possession at the 30.4-yard line, fifth-best in the league, on offense. Defensively, L.A. began at the opponent’s 27.8, good enough for the tenth rank. And while the averages worsened a bit during the playoffs — down to 23.5 and up to 28.5, respectively — the team can still flip momentum with a single kick.“Offensively, there’s a lot of backed up situations based on their kicking game where they put you on a long field,” said the Patriots’ head coach about the punting of Johnny Hekker, arguably the NFL’s premier player at his position and one Belichick apparently admires. “He’s a weapon on the field. He can change field position and he’s a good situational punter and obviously he’s very athletic.”“You have to respect his ability to handle the ball,” continued Belichick when talking about Hekker’s 20 career passing attempts, 12 of which were completed for a combined 168 yards and a touchdown — as well as 11 first downs. “I think the main thing when you send your punt return team out there is you want to make sure you get the ball at the end of the play. That’s not always that difficult but with these guys it’s pretty challenging.”In a game that the oddsmakers and statisticians expect to be a close one, a single play in the kicking game might turn out to be the difference — and the Rams are well equipped in this area. “They’re all weapons. Zuerlein’s a weapon, Hekker’s a weapon,” said Belichick about Los Angeles’ special teamers. “They do a good job in the return game.”

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Fri Aug 14, 2020 1:19 am