Behind Enemy Lines: Bears/Vikings, Part II

In Part II of an exclusive four-part series, BearReport.com's John Crist and Viking Update's Tim Yotter get deeper in their analysis with five questions from John to Tim. What's the difference with Brad Johnson from last year to this year, why is Chester Taylor having so much success, and where is Troy Williamson? These Q&As and more inside.

John Crist, Editor in Chief, BearReport.com: The Vikings looked to be a team on the rise in the NFC after thrashing the Seahawks 31-13 in Seattle, but they lost their next four games before finally knocking off the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday. Plainly speaking, what went wrong?

Tim Yotter, Publisher, VikingUpdate.com: In a nutshell, the Patriots exposed the Vikings a month ago. They gave a number of teams a blueprint for how to beat the defense, which had kept the Vikings in many of their games while the offense struggled. The Patriots went with three-, four- and even five-wide receiver sets and showed the league that with a good quarterback and a good stable of receivers, why even try to run on the defense? San Francisco didn't really follow that gameplan, but the offense played so poorly there that the 49ers came away with a 9-3 win. Green Bay emulated the Patriots and exposed the deep middle of the Vikings' zone, especially in the first half. The Vikings improved using more man defense against the Dolphins, but the offense had two turnovers in the fourth quarter returned for touchdowns in that loss. Basically, if teams find a way to move on the defense, this offense just doesn't have enough firepower to overcome that.

JC: Quarterback Brad Johnson was the savior last season after the loss of starter Daunte Culpepper and just about got the Vikings into the playoffs despite a horrible start. Why then has Johnson and the offense as a whole struggled so mightily this year?

TY: I think the implementation of Brad Childress's west coast offense has been a painful process. While Johnson won the Super Bowl with a similar offense in Tampa Bay, it took a while for that offense to come together, as well. The protection for Johnson has been shaky, as the line is also learning a new zone blocking scheme, and the receivers just aren't that good after the losses of Nate Burleson to Seattle in free agency and Koren Robinson's release after his struggles. That left them with no real No. 1 receiver and probably not a No. 2 either. While Johnson's mobility and arm strength can be blamed to some extent, there are a number of other factors that figured into the offense's struggles this year.

JC: From Michael Bennett to Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith to Mewelde Moore, the Vikings were the quintessential running-back-by-committee team for quite some time. What has tailback Chester Taylor brought to the ground game that the others didn't?

TY: Consistency and toughness. Bennett was far too fragile to be relied on, Williams was a great third-down back but not really a featured back, Onterrio Smith was too irresponsible to stay out the league's substance abuse program and Mewelde Moore also couldn't stay healthy long enough to completely take a featured-back role. Childress is as committed to the run as they come, and Taylor has been willing to shoulder the load even when the yards haven't come easy – and they haven't come easy at all this year.

JC: Needless to say, Randy Moss is no longer there to provide the highlight-reel plays from the receiver position. What is keeping wideout Troy Williamson from reaching his potential, and if he burns out, can anyone else on the roster be a true No. 1 threat?

TC: I don't see a No. 1 threat on the roster. Williamson could maybe be that guy if he would be able to catch the ball consistently, but he unofficially leads the league with 11 dropped passes this season and has fallen out of the picture and out of the starting lineup. They tried to work through his issues early in the year with mixed results, but lately it has been more drops than catches, and this offense isn't good enough to overcome that. He has been a non-factor the last four games, and it wouldn't surprise me if they began deactivating him soon, at least until he gets the drops out of his system.

JC: The addition of guard Steve Hutchinson was supposed to make the Minnesota offensive line arguably the best in football, but the team is only 16th in rushing at 112.5 yards per game. How well has Hutchinson played, and will all that money he's making ultimately be worth it?

TY: I don't think the person changes overnight from probably the best guard in football to a slouch, but I do think the change in schemes has really hurt him and the rest of the offensive line. I'm no offensive line expert, but it appears they are taking away the aggressiveness of the linemen with the zone scheme. Hutchinson is a tenacious blocker and might be better served to go out and seek someone to block rather than waiting for someone to enter his zone or 'track'. Maybe this just needs more time to come together, but unless this offensive line group – which was remolded on the right side with better success last week – can prove it against a top defense like the Bears, I'd say the change in schemes has hurt rather than helped this team, at least in the short term.

Be on the lookout for Part III of this four-part series as John will answer five more of Tim's questions.


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