John Crist: I've never seen a soap opera in the NFL like what's going on right now in Minnesota. It's gotten so bad that coach Brad Childress and quarterback Brett Favre are taking thinly-veiled shots at each other – sometimes unveiled, actually – in the media after games. Are there factions developing in the locker room, with a Childress camp and a Favre camp? Come to think of it, is there a Childress camp at all?
Tim Yotter: It has been quite a circus around here all season – make that all year – long. Of course, there was the annual waiting game in the summer. Will Favre have surgery? Will he play again? Will the Three Wise Men be able to bring him north? Will Randy Moss fit in? Will Brad Childress get shot down at midseason? It's been one distraction after another, and it has to be wearing on players almost as much as it on the media who cover them daily.
It's no secret that Favre and Childress aren't big buddies off the field, but Childress' comment about Favre after the game is being taken WAY out of proportion. It was clearly a joke for those who know how Childress operates, but the overreaction to it just shows how much this team is under the microscope. Every comment is analyzed, every move scrutinized. That is the bed Childress made when he decided to bring a guy like Favre, who grabs the media's attention at every turn and doesn't mind playing to that. It's clear that Childress' support in the locker room isn't great. Most players, when asked after the game if they were playing to save his job, said they were in it for the win, not the coach. He doesn't have much player support, but they are focused on winning for each other.
JC: Bears fans love to take shots at Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and his inability to hold on to the football, probably because he's so good and that's the only shot they can take at him. However, not only has Peterson lost zero fumbles this year, but he is yet to put the pigskin on the turf at all. What has he been doing differently to secure the ball and refine the only noticeable knock on his All-Pro game?
TY: He has been much better about not letting the ball flail away from his body. Instead, he finally seems to have accepted the fact that he has to carry it high and tight. There are still some times when it gets away from his body, but not nearly as much as it used to. There was one fumble last month that was actually his fault, but it came on an exchange with Favre, and when the running back never has control of it, the fumble is credited to the quarterback.
However, there is one correction. If Bears fans are looking for something to criticize, they can critique his inconsistency picking up the blitz. He continues to get better doing that, but he isn't a savvy veteran in that regard yet. As Childress would say, go ahead and pick at the scabs.
JC: Just how out of left field was the Childress decision to waive Randy Moss? That seemed to catch the rest of the league off guard, as it was the lead story in the NFL this past week. Did Moss really try to get Childress fired the moment he arrived from New England? Did Percy Harvin all of a sudden start displaying Moss-like tendencies around the locker room? Did Moss simply have to go, no matter the fallout?
TY: Moss can be and usually is a locker-room cancer. Although some players publicly supported him, it's also clear there are some players who agreed he needed to go. One of his biggest fans was Harvin, who was a bit star struck by Moss and then realized there was a lot of football knowledge to be gained from him. The only difference in Harvin that I noticed is that he seemed less inclined to talk with the media when Moss was here and, in fact, Moss was fined $25,000 for not cooperating with the media as called for in player contracts.
The mistake the Vikings made was in thinking that Childress or the locker-room leaders could "control" Moss. He seems to only act civilly for those he respects, and there aren't many people that fit that category, including Childress. I can understand the Vikings were desperate for a big, field-stretching receiver, but they started the season 1-2 without him and went 1-3 with him. He made a difference in the way defenses approached the Vikings, but not enough to get them more wins, so I think getting rid of him was the right move, although I don't understand why they didn't at least try the trade market. He might have held more value if they traded him, before all these stories of his issues became public.
JC: The Vikings have made a name for themselves on defense the last few years because of their front four, with Kevin Williams and Pat Williams swallowing up running backs in the middle and Jared Allen knocking down QBs off the edge. But in 2010, the Vikings' seventh-ranked rush D isn't impenetrable, and Allen needed 2.5 sacks in Week 9 to get to 3.5 on the season. What's different?
TY: When it comes to the rush defense, I think two things are going on. First, Pat Williams is starting to show signs of his age. They are rotating more in the interior of their defensive line, which seems to help keep him a little fresher.
The other issue is their tackling. In the past month, there have been far too many missed tackles. The unit that seems to be most at fault is the secondary when they are trying to contain or miss on an arm tackle. The Vikings aren't what they have been in recent past with their run defense, but if they can start tackling better, they should improve.
JC: I know you've covered this team for a long time, and sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees when you're on the inside – I'm guilty of that myself – but do you feel this team is set up to make a run in the second half and head back to the playoffs? So much went right for Minnesota last year. Is Childress' deal with the devil expiring? Will there be an explosion or an implosion the rest of the way?
TY: What went right for the Vikings last year was that they played very well and stayed mostly healthy until E.J. Henderson's horrific injury in December. This year, they just aren't playing as well. They haven't been unduly unlucky. It's just been mistakes in the red zone and interceptions that have kept them from having a much better record.
It's hard to know exactly how it's going to go, but they've dug themselves such a big hole with their mistakes in the first half of the season that it will take close to a 7-1 record in the second half to get them back into the playoffs. Unlike the Bears, the Vikings' schedule gets easier in the second half of the season, and seven of their eight games are against NFC opponents, which should help their tie-breaking status if they can put themselves in that position. The next two weeks will tell a lot, with division games against the Bears and at home against the Packers. If they can win both of those, they could gain confidence and catch fire. If they go 0-2 they will be out of it, and if they go 1-1 they have almost no margin for error after that. I'd still argue they have as much or more talent than just about anyone in the league, but there has been so much drama and tension that it's hard to ignore the possibility that Childress and Favre could both be in their last season with the team.
To read Part III of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John and Tim highlight matchups and make final predictions, Click Here. To go back and read Part I, where John answered five questions from Tim, Click Here.
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