Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier
Good morning, happy New Year to everyone, it’s a great new year for our football team and organization. Looking forward to extending our season and playing this game at Lambeau on Saturday night, it should be quite a football game. I think we are doing pretty good, I mean we got off to a good start this morning with our walk-thru practice, guys are really focused as you can imagine and locked in on what we have to get done. So much familiarity with the team that we are playing because of the number of times we have played them in the last month and a half, so not a whole lot that needs to be discussed as far as getting motivated to play this game. A lot of motivation internally for us, we will learn a little bit more about the status of some of our players after we get done today, so we’ll be able to talk a little bit more in depth tomorrow when we speak about where guys are injury-wise. Probably Antoine (Winfield) is a guy that we are looking at the most just to see where he is, he is a vital part of what we do on defense so we will see where he is. Tyrone McKenzie is banged up, so I’m not sure what direction we will go with him, get a little bit more information about him tomorrow and everyone else I should be able to give you a little bit more of an update tomorrow as well.
Q: Did losing Tyrone McKenzie contribute to some of the things in that ball game?
A: It did, he’s been a core guy for us throughout the season, actually he had gotten the game ball the previous week for his contribution on special teams. We had to adjust some things with Robert Blanton not being up as well, who has been very good on special teams, but we needed to get another defensive end up because we weren’t sure about Brian Robison. So we had some moving parts in that ball game on Sunday that did effect some of the things we did. We expect to get Robert (Blanton) back up for sure, we are not sure about Tyrone (McKenzie) quite yet, his is a little bit more serious.
Q: Who do you think learned more about their opponent, you or the Packers?
A: Man, I think we both know each other so well, the number of times we have played each other this season, the schemes aren’t changing a whole lot. I’m not sure if we know them better than they know us or vise-versa. We should both be very familiar with one another.
Q: What has changed with Christian Ponder after the first game against Green Bay?
A: He’s definitely improved coming out of that Green Bay game, but it’s been a process, each one of the games following he has gotten a little bit better. He was very good in Sunday’s game, but its just been a product of the work that he has put in with his coaches, Coach Johnson, the quarterbacks coach and Coach Musgrave. I mean he has always been a hard worker but doing the things he has to get done at practice, in meetings and then being able to carry that over to field. It’s just a great effort on his part taking care of the things he has to take care of, but also showing the type of character that he has to not wilt under the pressures surrounding the quarterback position but just staying focused on getting better. That is a credit to Christian.
Q: How much of that is being in sync with the receivers?
A: I think that definitely has something to do with it. Our receivers are doing a better job of getting open. Bill (Musgrave) has put together some excellent routes and combinations for our quarterbacks and receivers to take advantage of some of the things we are seeing with opposing teams secondaries, so a combination of some of the things we are doing schematically along with our players really performing at a high level.
Q: What has changed with Christian Ponder from the first Green Bay game to the second Green Bay game, did he change any of his habits?
A: I don’t know if he has changed any of his habits. The time he has spent in the building is similar to what he has always done, the time he has spent on the field, just being more intentional and understand what had to be done and why it was so important that it begins right now, that sense of urgency that was spoken of throughout our building with our players, he caught a hold of that. That is what you need from your quarterback, he got that sense of urgency that we needed to have for our entire team.
Q: Is his confidence higher now than it ever has been?
A: It’s hard to imagine that his confidence would be any higher than it is after the ball game he just had. It was such a huge game for our team and our organization and to play as well as he did, you would imagine that would be something that would propel him going forward. I think it will. That was great to see.
Q: Will you have a chance to do your normal film work with players this week?
A: No, not to the same degree that we would if it were a more extended week. Some of it is due to fact that we are so familiar with the team. We are breaking up our film a little bit differently than we would if this were an opponent that we had less familiarity with.
Q: What is the number one key to good tackling during a game since you can’t tackle in practice?
A: I think a lot of it is a mindset because you can’t, as you mentioned, physically take guys to the ground during practice. We will go through some drills but it’s not the same because you don’t have pads on, you can’t really execute it the way you would if you were doing it live. It becomes a mindset, just instilling in the guys the importance of it and getting everybody to run to the ball, but it still comes back to the individual understanding the angles and having a mentality that ‘I’m going to make this tackle, I know how to tackle, I know how to wrap my arms, I know how to bring my feet, get into position.’ Because as you mentioned you can’t physically get it done in practice, so the mental part really takes over
Q: Chad Greenway, with all of his tackles, what kind of tackler is he?
A: He is a very good tackler, those numbers speak to that, but his effort as much as anything has a lot to do with the number of tackles along with his instincts. He is a very instinctive football player, he is around the ball a lot, he is always hustling, he’s one of those guys going 100 miles per hour. He has a nose for the football, there’s certain guys that have a knack for being around the ball and making plays, he is one of those guys.
Q: Does the fact that Christian Ponder had his best game in the biggest game he has played in increase your confidence that he is this team’s future at quarterback?
A: I think it increases everybody’s confidence when your quarterback plays as well as he played, and in arguably the biggest game of our season because of what was at stake it was very encouraging. The thing about our business is that you have to continue to put good games together. You can’t rest on your laurels in our business and this next game is actually bigger than the one we just had, because now we are in the playoffs. The stakes will continue to get a little bit higher as we go along, you want to keep playing better. You don’t want to say that was my best game and peak at that point, you want to get better. We need to get better as a team.
Q: What do you think is the next step for him?
A: Well you want to keep building on success, the more success you have, you would think that is going to increase my confidence as a player and you want to keep building on that. You don’t want to have regression. That would be the next step, continuing to build on some of the things that we saw on Sunday.
Q: Talk a little about Everson Griffen’s maturity level now vs. when he came into the league, did you talk with him after his rookie year?
A: We had a lot of talk, a lot of talks, a lot of conversations. He’s matured tremendously and we still have our conversations but he has come a long ways. I’ve said it before, he’s a great example for other young players that come into the league because there are some traps if you’re not careful with how you deal with certain things. This is not a college atmosphere. Playing in the National Football League and handling yourself away from this building. He’s really matured off the field, he has always been an excellent athlete, that is one of the reasons we drafted him, to see the maturation in him as a person is great for him, great for our organization, great for our team. As I mentioned we still have to continue to work in a lot of areas but he has made drastic improvements.
Q: How important was it for Christian Ponder to know that you were never wavering with him as the starting quarterback and how important it is for you as a coach to remain steadfast?
A: When we were going through some of those tough moments, all of those questions about whether he should be in there or not be in there and we were struggling a little bit on offense and as a team. If it is something you believe in from my perspective as the head coach, you can’t be swayed by outside opinions. You can listen but you always have to make sure that you’re doing the best thing for the team and what gives the team the best chance to win. For me that was making sure that Christian (Ponder) knew that he had my unwavering support. I thought it was neccessary to voice that to him and our team as well. To his credit, he’s responded and is playing well for us, we need that from the quarterback position. I don’t think it is a good thing to have any influx about that position, you need to make some clear cut decisions about the quarterback position.
Q: Did you say anything to him after the first Green Bay game to reaffirm that?
A: No, I talked to him in the locker room after the game because I anticipated there would be a lot of criticism and a lot of second guessing from a lot of different places and I wanted him to know that before he went to that press conference, ‘I don’t want you to walk in there with any doubt about your future here as our starting quarterback. Next ball game you’re going to be our starter. There are some things that we need to work on leading up to that game.’ The Chicago game I think was the next one and I just wanted him to be assured that we would get through this, we had some work to do and you’re going to be the guy, you just have to handle some things and he has. He’s done a great job.
Q: When the team sharpened its identity the second half of the season, how has that help Christian?
A: We’ve always tried to bring in the focus of who we are and what our identity is from day one. We’re going all the way back to the spring, this is how we want to be identified, these are our team characteristics. We want to be a tough, smart, disciplined football team. That’s what we want people to be able to look at our team and say. And then the way we’ve tried to structure our offense, our defense, our special teams along with that. I think what we’ve done offensively to make it clear to our players that this is who we are going to be, everything is going to revolve around 28, make no bones about it. That takes some of the second guessing out of it. This is who we are, this is how we are going to win in the NFL, we are going to be a run-oriented football team, we are going to be able to get some explosive plays in the passing game because we are going to run the ball so well. We are going to be a good play-action team, we are going to run bootlegs and have success with it because we run the football so well. Every quarterback wouldn’t want to hear that in our league, but that is where we are and that’s the way we want to do it. To Christian’s credit he has accepted that, he’s embraced it and he has done a good job for us.
Q: Can you put your fingers on why there have been so many turnovers outdoors this season?
A: That’s a tough one, hoping that this is the week we get past that. We definitely have not played as well as we can play in an outdoor environment, but we get another chance at it this weekend. We have to play better, we know the importance of takeaways and giveaways whether you’re indoors or outdoors. It just so happens that we haven’t done so well when it comes to that stat outdoors. We get another chance at it so we need to figure it out.
Q: Are you going to practice outdoors at all this week?
A: I don’t think so. Might have to go out without me on that one, it was minus 10 this morning, wow! So any thoughts I had about us going out there were kind of removed when I got out of my car this morning.
Q: Could they clear the field and make it available to practice on?
A: The footing would be too treturous, it wouldn’t be wise.
Q: At what point during this season did you realize that Blair Walsh would be so reliable?
A: Talking with Mike Priefer, our special teams coach, along with Chris White, as they were working with him this spring and even before we drafted him we were pretty confident he would be a good kicker. With that being said there were some things from an accuracy standpoint that he struggled with his senior season. In talking with Mike he was confident that those things were fixable and once we drafted him and began to work with him, we all saw that this kid had a chance to be special in a lot of ways. So we saw early on that he had a chance to be a really good kicker at our level. I don’t know if any of us could have predicted that he would be 10-10 from 50 or more yards and the number of touchbacks we’ve had this season. We all thought he would upgrade our football team and make us better in the areas we needed to get better, on drive starts along with some of the stuff we are doing with our long field goals.
Q: What about this kid and being able to find a solid roster spot, it seems that kickers used to bounce around in order to find a long-term team?
A: It has to go back to his mental make-up. I remember being on teams that were going through kickers in the middle of the season, it was hard, a tough task. You have to go back to his mental make-up, he is a tough-minded young man, he has shown that he is able to handle just about every situation you can put a kicker in. Even that situation on Sunday where they tried to ice him, we have practiced that a thousand times, and he goes right back out there and kicks it right through the uprights. His mental toughness, that’s what I would trace it back to.
Q: AJ Jefferson seemed frustrated after taking that pass interference and giving up that touchdown, where is he at?
A: I think it was definitely a frustrating period for him, but he will bounce back. That is one of the things that you have to do at the corner position. There are going to be some plays that don’t go your way, you’ve got to have a short memory. He will get past that. The thing about our business and for him the good thing is he gets a chance to line up again this week against the same people he faced last Sunday, so his familiarity with what they are doing offensively should enable him to play better. We are going to need him to play better, we are going to need a lot of guys to play better, but that will help him. He will make the progress that is necessary.
Q: The Packers do a good job of spreading teams out and testing your secondary?
A: They do a good job of it. When I read Coach McCarthy’s quotes and he says “We are always looking for match-ups.” I know what he means, I know what he means.
Vikings Quarterback Christian Ponder
Playoffs!? That was awesome. Was that executed well, was that good? Obviously this is an exciting week for us. Watching the film, what we did this past week, something to be proud of. It was a great team win but there is so much we can get better at and continue to work on, so many points that we left out on that field. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. Obviously we want to keep our execution level up but it was exciting. It put us in a spot that we’ve been wanting to be, wanted to get here since April 23rd of last year when we started OTA’s. It’s going to be tough going to Lambeau. Obviously it’s an environment that’s tough to play in but we’re hoping that a lot of our Vikings fans travel, just like there were some Green Bay fans at home this past week. Our fans did a such a great job this past weekend and creating an environment that was very conducive to us to be successful on our field and create a home field advantage, it was awesome. We had a lot of guys that stepped up and made plays, and we’re going to need that this game. It’s going to be tough but we’re looking forward to the challenge. We’ve been treating it like a playoff atmosphere since that first Chicago game. We knew if we lost one then we’d be out of the dance and that’s how it is now.
Q: How is your elbow?
A: It’s good, it’s fine. It’s whatever, it’s something that will be fine and get it ready to go.
Q: Can you talk about the growth that’s been made in your game since the first meeting at Lambeau Field?
A: A lot has changed. I think the biggest thing for me was making better decisions, made some bad decisions in that first game and it’s something that I knew I had to improve upon. I think each week it’s gotten better where maybe the Chicago game I was a little conservative and kind of going throughout those next games took steps forward. Balancing being conservative, making good decisions and taking chances, that’s something you need to continue to learn as a quarterback and growing up. I think that’s the biggest difference for me.
Q: How do you learn the line you have to draw in a game between conservative and assertive?
A: You kind of just have to figure out the line. I think with each game, the high school game, the college game and the NFL game, that line changes every step that you take and the better the competition is. That’s something that I’m learning as I’m going through these NFL seasons and the games and the experiences that I get. You just have to find that balance and find the right way to do it. I think I’ve made strides in that area.
Q: Has your confidence level changed?
A: I don’t think my confidence ever really was shaken or anything. It just goes back to understanding what I can and can’t do. I can’t force things that aren’t there and understanding the decisions that I’m making. It had nothing really to do with confidence.
Q: After the first Green Bay game, Coach Frazier reaffirmed to you that ‘Hey you’re my guy’. At that point, how much did you need to hear that?
A: It was big. I never wanted to lose hope that I wasn’t the guy. For him and Adrian [Peterson] to come up and say what they said and be supportive of me, that was important. It definitely helped. It was a tough situation and I was very hard on myself, so it was good to hear.
Q: When you were 6-6 and someone said playoffs, would you have thought they were crazy or where was your mind set at with this team?
A: I wouldn’t have thought we were crazy. I think that streak we went through where we didn’t play so well was all on us. We weren’t playing up to the level in the things that we could control. Knowing that we could fix these problems and these issues, especially at the quarterback play, that was one reason and some other reasons that we would be better and would be able to play better and we did that. We treated each week like a one week season and were able to get here. We never lost hope, we just knew we had to come to work and prepare better, find different things we needed to do. Now we’re sitting here and we’re in the playoffs.
Q: Are you more in sync with the receivers, guys like Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins?
A: Yeah, as the season goes on you kind of find that chemistry. We had our lumps but I think these past couple of weeks we definitely got better. I think Jerome has gotten his confidence up, we knew eventually he was going to break out and I think especially on third downs he’s come alive. He’s had some great catches, running great routes. Jenkins is coming up in big ways and a bunch of other guys. Jarius [Wright], obviously everyone has seen him step up. Guys have stepped up at the right time. We need to continue to do that.
Q: Was there an adjustment after you guys lost Percy Harvin?
A: I don’t know if there was an adjustment, I think we just had to find that chemistry. With Jarius [Wright], a guy that was basically on the scout squad the whole time, had to find that chemistry with him and just keep building that chemistry with other guys.
Q: How do you get ready for the intensity level with playoffs?
A: We know that it is a high pressure situation, but for me, I’m going to try to treat it like I’ve done the past several weeks. We’ve treated that like playoffs games. The atmosphere wasn’t the same, I think last week we experienced a playoff atmosphere because we knew if we lost we were out of it. I think the fans kind of felt that same energy as well. You don’t want to put extra pressure on yourself, but you do understand if you lose we’re out and for us it’s very disappointing. Our number one goal is to get to the Super Bowl and win it and have a ring on our finger. We’re just going to prepare and work hard like we do every week.
Q: What are the challenges for both teams after seeing each other twice already?
A: Both sides are going to be very familiar with each other. The interesting thing is that this is going to be a shorter week so I don’t know schematically on defense what they can do different. I‘m sure they’ll have some different wrinkles but the same goes for the offense. We’re both familiar with each other, which has advantages and disadvantages for both sides, but the good thing is that it’s equal both ways.
Q: Did you guys have a pretty good protection plan?
A: Yeah, we did. They showed a lot of those pressures on film so we’re very familiar with them. Coach Davidson and Coach Musgrave did a great job of recognizing those things and being able to pick up certain stuff in the pass protection. Our offensive line did a great job. Sully [John Sullivan] does a great job of understanding and seeing different things and making calls to make sure that we pick those things up.
Q: How much of your preparation is focused on things you haven’t seen?
A: We probably should expect some different wrinkles. We’ve expecting them to continue to try to stop Adrian [Peterson], that’s going to be their biggest thing. He’s had almost 200 yards this past game and over 200 yards that first game so I think their number one goal is going to be to stop him. We expect maybe for some different looks, some different blitzes, but after a 16 game season you kind of see what they do and have a basic understanding of what they’re going to show.
Q: Did you anticipate them spying you with Clay Matthews?
A: Yeah, we knew that, especially on third down they like to do some two man stuff, just like Houston did, so I think they saw how I ran and did some things on third down. We expected that to happen and it showed up.
Q: On that touchdown pass to Adrian Peterson, were you surprised to see him open and is that why you kind of hesitated to get it to him?
A: Yeah, I didn’t expect him to be that wide open and I could have ran it in or threw it in, and I just gave it to him.
Q: Did you guys get the telepathy that he told us about?
A: Yeah, we were on that same page. I felt him, I read that. We were on the same page. He’s a freak man, he can control your mind, it’s crazy. He does a lot of things, it’s crazy.
Q: Have you seen Bill Musgrave’s imprint on the offense?
A: Just with him, he’s so intelligent, so creative in what he does. Honestly with Adrian [Peterson], there are only so many runs you can create and do, but he still finds new ways to get him the ball and obviously that’s working. In the passing game, finding ways to get guys open and create different throws and play actions and all these different things. He has such a great understanding of defenses, I think that’s the biggest thing that impresses me. He understands defenses so well. He just does a great job week in and week out of cultivating a game plan that is up to us to execute and to perform. He does put us in very good positions a lot of the time.
Q: How do you go about preparing for the cold in Green Bay?
A: I don’t know. I think today they’re going to open up the garage and stuff to make it cold in here but it’s something that you have to be prepared for mentally. I don’t know how well you can prepare for it. The good thing is when we’re there we’ll have the hand warmers and stuff. The biggest thing in cold weather is your hands get dry and it makes the ball slick. With the hand warmers and stuff that will help.
Q: Some quarterbacks talk about gripping the ball differently, this is probably the coldest game you’ve played in?
A: There weren’t too many cold games in Florida, I can tell you that. When the ball is slicker, you don‘t want to grip it tighter because it will slip out of your hand. It’s definitely different. It’s something that hopefully we can do some things in here, it was cold this morning, it was -13 on my drive in, but something that we can try to prepare for.
Q: Did you change anything with your focus after the first Green Bay game?
A: No, I didn’t really change anything. It’s kind of been my same routine since week one of how I prepare. Preparation wise I didn’t really change anything.
Q: Do you get any sense of why the turnovers are happening outdoors?
A: No, I don’t think so. The biggest thing for me is a lot of times it’s just decision making. I don’t think it has anything to do with how the grip is on the ball or anything whether wise. I think it just comes down to decision making indoors or outdoors.