John Crist: Admit it, Tim. You didn't think Brett Favre would be this good this fast. Since it's taking Jay Cutler a while to find himself in Chicago, how did Favre figure it out so quickly in Minnesota?
Tim Yotter: There are a couple of big differences, as I see it now – hindsight being 20-20. Cutler was moving from one offensive scheme to another. The difference for Favre was that he was returning to West Coast offense that he had been so successful running in Green Bay for 16 years. So he knew the scheme, but he also knew his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who spent six years as Favre's quarterbacks coach in Green Bay. Those two factors helped, in addition to Favre having three times the experience in the league overall as Cutler. Plus, I think it's clear now that the Vikings have some talented receivers. They just needed a quarterback to make them better and believe in them. Favre spent time watching film of his new receivers so he could determine what their strengths were and put them in a position to take advantage of that.
I didn't have any doubt that Favre would significantly upgrade the Vikings' quarterback position, but there is no way anyone would have guessed that he would end up throwing 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions at this point in the season. He's having his best year for completion percentage and easily the best for interception percentage and passer rating. Considering he had three previous seasons being named MVP of the league, you'd have to believe he's a frontrunner for that award again this year.
JC: While it's impossible to suggest that Adrian Peterson is anything other than the best running back in the NFL, he continues to put the football on the ground a little too often. I don't care how good you are at that position. If you fumble, you don't last. What, if anything, are the Vikings doing about it?
TY: They continue to work on it with drills, but they aren't obsessing over it. He tends to swing the ball out there too often, and he knows it. It's part of his aggressive running style, but any defense that can surround him should then be going to punch the ball out.
Peterson needs to learn that when he's done with a play – and only he can know when that is – he can go down. He also needs to keep it closer to his body when he's making moves. But, believe me, he'll last.
JC: Minny threw a ton of money at Bernard Berrian in free agency two offseasons ago. The former Bear was pretty good last year, but this year he's been pushed aside in favor of Sidney Rice. Has Berrian's play been slipping at all, or has Favre simply developed better chemistry with Rice thus far?
TY: Berrian has been dealing with a hamstring injury much of the last two months, so that's been a major factor in slowing down the speedy one. But Favre has also categorized Berrian as an excellent slant receiver, and they haven't spent a lot of time sending him deep. That's been more of Rice's role, despite the fact that Rice doesn't have close to Berrian's speed.
The reason is that Favre trusts if he throws a ball to Rice, it's either the receiver or no one that is going to get it because of his excellent ball skills. Rice wasn't healthy last year, and Berrian seems to be taking his turn with an extended injury this year. That has meant the emergence of Rice and Berrian slipping into the shadows a bit more, at least lately. In addition, Favre has found Percy Harvin to be his favorite third-down target, so there is another receiver taking some of the attention away from Berrian.
JC: Jared Allen flat-out destroyed John St. Clair both times he faced him in 2008. And since Orlando Pace doesn't look to have anything left in the tank, the song will likely be the same Sunday. In the time Allen has been with the Vikings, what have successful opponents done to slow him down?
TY: A healthy Chad Clifton seems to have success against Allen, but the defensive end usually gets double-teamed on passing downs. He has been very hit-or-miss as far as sacks go this year. He is second in the league with 10.5, but seven of those came against a porous Packers line.
I'd guess he's looking to add to his tally against Pace and the Bears, but I'd also expect the Bears to be extremely mindful of Allen when it comes to where they slide their protections. Even in games without a sack, Allen has continued high effort in trying to pressure quarterbacks and being very good against the run.
JC: Minnesota let Darren Sharper walk in free agency and hasn't skipped a beat at all. Chicago let Mike Brown exit stage left but has missed his presence in the secondary. Sharper has starred for the Saints, while Brown is second on the Chiefs in tackles. Why did the Vikes survive Sharper's defection?
TY: Sharper is tearing up the league with his seven interceptions in New Orleans, but he was in a much different system in Minnesota. In the Vikings' Tampa-2 defense, they call for their safeties to support the run and don't get beat over the top. Sharper has amazing instincts to essentially play center field and read the quarterback's eyes, but the Vikings didn't allow for any freelancing in their secondary. At times, that seemed to frustrate Sharper, who loved getting the interceptions. He adapted and played within the confines of the defense, but the Vikings were obviously planning to move on without him. They used their only pick in the top three rounds of the 2008 draft to select Tyrell Johnson, and one of their top free agents last year was Madieu Williams.
The fact that the Vikings didn't get a lot of interceptions from their safeties with this defense probably makes it feel like they haven't missed a beat without Sharper, who has as many interceptions (seven) as the entire Vikings defense. Meanwhile, the Vikings haven't been beat over the top and have been solid against the run, so they seem to be getting what they want out of their safeties.
To read Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answers five questions from Tim, Click Here.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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