John Crist: Now that the streak has mercifully come to an end and the Vikings are nowhere near postseason consideration, does interim coach Leslie Frazier have any motivation to play Brett Favre again? Doesn't it make sense to see what he has in Joe Webb, provided he's healthy enough to go?
Tim Yotter: Personally, I think it makes the most sense to play Webb, but my reasoning is different than Frazier's. Webb is likely to end up starting on Monday night, but that would be because of injuries. Frazier still would prefer to have Favre starting because, as Frazier says, it gives the team the best chance to win. I agree with that sentiment, but the Vikings need to figure out what they have behind Favre since it's clear he isn't coming back next year. With Tarvaris Jackson on injured reserve, his résumé with the Vikings is this: an inconsistent player that hasn't been able to develop into a reliable starter. They don't know yet what they have in Webb, but it's pretty safe to assume that he will be no higher than a No. 2 quarterback next year. That said, I don't think it would hurt to get him some playing time without any pressure of the playoffs anymore this season.
So what was holding Frazier back from making that call before injuries forced his hand? Frankly, I think it was a matter of him wanting to win as much as possible in these final games so he stands the best chance at being hired as the head coach for 2011 and beyond. I completely understand that, but if owner Zygi Wilf has a pretty good idea that Frazier is his man beyond this year, it would be in the best long-term interest of the team to let him know that so he can made decisions for the future.
JC: The Vikings don't appear to have the same difference-making offensive line that they did in the past, as Matt Birk is no longer at center, Steve Hutchinson has proven to be human at left guard and Bryant McKinnie is arguably one of the more overrated left tackles in the NFL. Are changes on the horizon?
TY: I don't see them making any changes with McKinnie or Hutchinson. They are tied into long-term deals and, despite the fact that the offensive line hasn't been very good this year, they are still the best players on that line. McKinnie has actually had a decent season – probably better than last year, or at least more consistent – but his seemingly carefree attitude doesn't help people's perception of him. He's not the Pro Bowl-caliber guy that was selected to the Pro Bowl last year, but he's also worth hanging onto because there are no other real options there. Hutchinson's fractured thumb has rendered him inactive for the last two games, snapping his own 123-game streak of playing. While he may have declining skills with wear and tear, he still is a very serviceable player.
If there are changes in personnel, I'd expect those to come at center and right guard. But with the coaching staff in flux, I wouldn't be surprised if the biggest change is a change in position coaches or philosophy.
JC: Jared Allen got off to a slow start this year, maybe because his weight was down and he didn't seem to be playing with the same strength he had earlier in his Minnesota career. Now he's posted at least one sack in five straight games, including two in the first Bears game. What changed?
TY: He claims nothing has changed, citing the tired phrase that sacks come in bunches. But there could be a few explanations. One of the explanations could be that the level of competition just hasn't been as intense in the last month as it was before the streak started. During one five-game stretch, he was shut out against teams that included the Jets, Packers and Patriots.
But, in my opinion, one of the biggest reasons for his increased sack totals of late has to do with the improved pressure the Vikings are getting from their defensive tackles. Kevin Williams has been playing very well the last three games and I think the tackles are staying in their lanes better, forcing quarterbacks to escape laterally when the pocket collapses instead of stepping up and leaving the pass rush behind them. That flushes the quarterback toward the edges, where Allen can get his mitts on him.
JC: After having such a dominant run defense for so many years, the Vikings have slipped to 10th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (101.3). Is this the simple fact that the "Williams Wall" couldn't keep performing at a Pro Bowl level forever, or are there other factors more at fault?
TY: Some of it has to do with a decrease in Pat Williams' game. He doesn't seem to have the stamina or short-area explosiveness he possessed the last few years. While I think Kevin Williams has been playing the run and pass equally well, some of the defenders have been out of position. Earlier in the season, the tackling wasn't what it was in the past, but they seem to have gotten better there. Now the issue is losing contain or a linebacker fitting in the wrong spot and creating a crease.
The Vikings don't have the big safety to help make up for those mistakes, and teams have been able to rattle off a few big runs – nowhere was that more apparent than Monday against the Giants, who had two 100-yard rushers, with Ahmad Bradshaw recording a 48-yard run and Brandon Jacobs getting to the edge and running 73 yards. You just didn't see that happen in the past. Now you do.
JC: Because of this latest mishap with the Metrodome, the possibility of the Vikings leaving Minnesota has been a popular topic again this week. You've always had your finger on the pulse of this franchise's struggles to get a new facility, so what's the latest chatter and how realistic is the organization being in California before long?
TY: The collapse of the Metrodome is costing the franchise millions of dollars in lost revenue (they refunded tickets from last week's game and will likely come up about 13,000 tickets shy if they move to TCF Bank Stadium this week). It's got to be infuriating for a team that is already at the bottom of the league in stadium revenues to begin with. But if they can get past this last scheduled "home" game, the roof tearing may be a blessing. I think it has pointed out to everyone in Minnesota just what a dump that stadium is compared to any other venue in the league. A Republican senator came out Wednesday saying that she would have a stadium bill introduced by late January, and I think all the politicians realize they can't balk anymore. Either they find a way to pass a stadium bill, or talks will start up in earnest about relocation. It's just that simple.
What isn't simple is finding another location. No new stadium construction is expected in Los Angeles until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, but the veiled threats will be over if a stadium solution in Minnesota isn't found in the coming legislative session. The talk will be public and frontal. The Metrodome has cost the franchise enough money. After more than a decade of trying to get a new stadium, nobody can claim that the Vikings didn't try.
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.
John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Tim Yotter is the publisher of VikingUpdate.com.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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