John Crist: Rookie tailback sensation Adrian Peterson absolutely shredded the Bears in the first meeting and is a slam dunk for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he was curiously swallowed up by a bad 49ers team – just 3 yards on 14 carries – last week. What did San Francisco do to contain him, and do you believe any sort of weakness in his game was on display as a result?
Tim Yotter: The 49ers consistently brought pressure from the edges of their defense in an effort to slow down Peterson. Not only did it slow him down, it completely neutralized him. The concern is that might be a blueprint to stop the Vikings rushing attack; however, there are a couple of issues that follow. Chester Taylor was able to get loose for an 84-yard touchdown run, so the aggressive approach that the 49ers took appeared to be one that could be exploited for big yardage if the running backs could get past the initial wave of defenders.
Brad Childress also likes to say that every scheme has a weak spot, and that was the case with the 49ers. While San Francisco has an incredible talent in rookie Patrick Willis, a lightning-quick middle linebacker isn't found on every team and the Vikings could have success running between the tackles if other teams try to bring so much pressure from the edges. The other way to exploit the aggressive cornerback approach is to hit them with a quick passing game, and Tarvaris Jackson found WR Robert Ferguson for one such touchdown pass when Ferguson's defender came on a blitz.
JC: Second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has been remarkably better the last few weeks than he was earlier in the season, posting consecutive passer ratings of 79.9, 139.2, 110.4, and 95.9 during the team's four-game winning streak. What's been the biggest difference in his play, and has offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's game plan started to expand as a result?
QB Tarvaris Jackson
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TY: I haven't seen the Vikings' game plan expand a great deal with Jackson's recent success, but his more consistent play has been apparent. A few factors play into that.
First, Jackson has been healthy now for a four-game stretch, all of them wins, which has allowed him to build off of the previous game. Earlier in the season, he missed significant time with groin, finger and head injuries. It's difficult to build some momentum with a young quarterback if he can't stay on the field from week to week. Secondly, Jackson's improved health has him more mobile and he is doing a much better job of simply scrambling for five yards and sliding when the pocket is collapsing or the coverage isn't allowing a receiver to get free. He isn't a guy that is going to break off many 30-yard runs, but he is learning the value of getting another first down and giving the rest of his offense a chance to make more plays with an extended drive. Finally, I think he is getting a better feel for the timing of the game. Earlier in the season, he would hang onto the ball too long and then either take a sack or throw an ill-advised pass while under duress. It seems that the mythical clock in his head has been functioning much better.
JC: Former Bears castoff Bobby Wade is the team's leading receiver, but it looks like rookie Sidney Rice is starting to develop as a big-play threat in the passing game. Fellow rookie Aundrae Allison is now finally having his number called as well, so can the team move forward with this triumvirate of wideouts or do they still need another target or two since Troy Williamson is a bust?
TY: I think they still need one more veteran wide receiver. Wade is the team's leading receiver, but I still view him as more of a slot receiver who is best as a team's third receiver. He has been dependable for the short and intermediate gains, but I think this offense would benefit by getting one more big receiver that can also stretch the field on occasion.
Rice is the most talented receiver on the roster, in my opinion, with a large frame and excellent ball skills. He is a legitimate No. 2 receiver right now and might have the chance to become a No. 1, but I think they'd be more dangerous by having another threat to take advantage of defenses that stack to stop Peterson.
JC: Linebacker Chad Greenway missed all of his rookie season in 2006 due to injury, but now the former first-rounder is starting on the weak side and second on the team in tackles. Has he suffered any lingering effects from last year's torn knee, and do the Vikings still see him developing into a future Pro Bowl-caliber defender?
LB Chad Greenway
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TY: As you know, the weak side position in the Tampa-2 defense is the one designed to make the most plays, and Greenway has shown in his first year of playing that he has the skills. He has four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. He is an athletic player that has a nose for the ball and the speed needed to work himself into that Pro Bowl level in the years to come.
He also has the work ethic, as he impressed the trainers throughout his rehabilitation process last year. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the first preseason game and, in talking with him throughout the offseason, he said he would have been ready to play in February. The guy has a history of being able to come back from injuries early and it appears he has a solid career ahead of him if he can stay healthy.
JC: Minnesota continues to be the best team in the league defending the run, allowing just 70.7 yards per game on the ground, yet the worst team in the league defending the pass, giving up 273.5 yards per game through the air. Is this something defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has simply learned to live with at this point, or would he prefer to have a better balance on defense?
TY: If having a better balance meant giving up more yards rushing, then I think he'd rather live with what he's got right now. Part of the reason for the staggering imbalance is that many opponents see how hard it is to run consistently on the Vikings and elect to just pass the ball more. That helps Minnesota's rushing statistics and hurts its rating on pass defense. However, the Vikings are also one of the top teams in turnover differential, so while they tend to give up big chunks of yardage, they also come up with their share of interceptions and fumble recoveries and have a good track record of red-zone defense. That means they give up yardage, but not a corresponding amount of points as the field shortens.
However, they are young at cornerback – after Antoine Winfield, they don't have a corner with more than two years of experience – and would probably benefit by finding a consistent pass-rushing defensive end if someone like Jared Allen would possibly be available in free agency. This year, however, if they do make it to the postseason, their pass defense could be exploited by the better quarterbacks in the league, like, say, Brett Favre and Tony Romo. In that case, they would likely live and die by how many turnovers they'd be able to create.