John Crist: Adrian Peterson hasn't hit the 200-yard mark this season like he did on a few occasions last year, including against the Bears at Soldier Field, but he's still second in the league in rushing. How has his game improved from Year 1 to Year 2?
Tim Yotter: I think it's just about consistency with him. For one, he's been able to stay healthy enough to play every game this year, while last year he was injured against Green Bay and missed a couple games. He has also talked all year long about becoming a more patient runner and waiting for his blocks to develop. I think that's a difficult thing for a guy with his speed and his desire to make a big play every time.
Toward the end of last year, when defenses were concentrating on him, he found it difficult to make much of it because he was always looking for the home run and getting corralled near the line of scrimmage. He ended the season with less than 40 yards rushing in three of his last four games. This year, despite defenses stacking up against him, he's had only one game with fewer than 40 yards. I still think he's got the capability to go for more than 200 yards in any game if defenses don't put the emphasis on him. There seems to be a couple of runs in every game where he is very close to breaking off a 60-yarder.
JC: Former Bear Bernard Berrian has only caught 34 passes in 11 games, although his 19.8 yards-per-catch average is scary and proves he's one of the better deep threats in the game. But why can't Minnesota get the ball in his hands more often?
TY: He started the season slow – maybe because of his lingering toe injury, maybe because of the quarterback situation or maybe because he was getting used to a new offense. But after two weeks, he really hit a nice run of six games in which he caught 27 passes for 583 yards. Since then, he has started to garner more attention with a safety over the top, but the passing offense in general has sagged ever since these two teams met last.
I think his falloff in production – four catches for 52 yards in the last three games – has been more of an indictment on the inconsistencies of Gus Frerotte's play than it is on Berrian. Frerotte just doesn't look comfortable in the pocket anymore, so that will have to change if the Vikings are going to be a well-balanced offense down the stretch.
JC: The Chicago front four finally woke up from a season-long slumber last week in St. Louis, getting five sacks and a bunch of TFLs against the Rams. Needless to say, the Vikings aren't the Rams. Just how much better is the Minny O-line?
TY: The left side of the line has really come together, as Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson have gotten back into a groove playing next to each other after McKinnie's four-game suspension to open the season. The right side of the line still has some issues. Last week, the Vikings supplanted Ryan Cook at right tackle with Artis Hicks. That seemed to help. While Frerotte was sacked three times, he brought much of that on himself by holding onto the ball too long and hoping to make too much out of nothing. Hicks will likely be questionable with a right elbow injury suffered last week that caused him to miss the last dozen or so plays.
The offensive line has looked better of late, but there are still some issues in my opinion.
JC: Everyone around the NFL is wondering what Roger Goodell will do with Kevin Williams and Pat Williams with regard to a possible suspension. If the Williams Wall indeed does get shut down, who steps into the starting lineup at D-tackle?
TY: It would be Fred Evans stepping in behind Pat Williams and Ellis Wyms behind Kevin Williams. No doubt, that would be a big dropoff in talent from the two Pro Bowlers to two guys who are decent rotational players but not yet ready to start and play at a high level for 40 snaps. Wyms has been getting better at pressuring the quarterback, but Evans is an interesting prospect at nose tackle. He's young and developing, but he probably needs to get a little stronger yet with the anchor.
But here would be the biggest issue to consider if the Williamses do get suspended: E.J. Henderson was playing at an extremely high level before he got hurt, so that would mean three Pro Bowl-caliber players gone from the middle of the defense. I'm not sure they'd be able to weather that storm. If Henderson hadn't been hurt, he was starting to make me think he might be the best middle linebacker in the NFC. Napoleon Harris just hasn't played to that level, so a suspension for the Williamses could be a devastating blow to the heart of that defense, especially if it would last into the final two games when they play the running games of the Falcons and Giants.
JC: If you ask me, whomever wins Sunday night's game will take the NFC North. But even if the Bears emerge victorious and earn a two-game sweep over their rivals, make me a case that the Vikings can still come back and win the division.
TY: Frankly, your honor, I would make a bad defense attorney in this case. If the Bears win on Sunday night, they will have swept the Vikings and therefore have the first division tie-breaker. That means the Vikings would need a one-game advantage on the Bears at the end of the season, meaning their record would have to be two games better than the Bears over the last four games – 4-0 versus 2-2 or 3-1 versus 1-3. Granted, the Vikings follow up Sunday's game by travelling to Detroit, but after that there are three quality NFC opponents in Arizona, Atlanta and New York. It would be hard for the Vikings to pull out a 4-0 record with that schedule, and I think 2-2 is realistic for the Bears' final four games against Jacksonville, New Orleans, Green Bay and Houston.
The Vikings really have to have this game if they want to win the division. Winning it would give the Vikings a one-game lead over the Bears in overall record, even the division record (both at 3-2) and give them a lead in the conference record (5-3 vs. 5-5, with all of the Vikings' remaining games against NFC opponents). So I believe this game actually means more to the Vikings than the Bears.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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