Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings @ Arizona, Part 2

The Arizona Cardinals face a very hot Minnesota Vikings team on Sunday. Brett Favre is playing his best football thanks to his best supporting cast ever. That, and the emergence of Sidney Rice. But Larry Fitzgerald also has something to do with it. Find out why and more exclusive info from the Viking Update's Tim Yotter in part two of our Behind Enemy Lines series.

For Part I, click here.

Amberly Dressler: Brett Favre is second only to Drew Brees in the NFL for touchdown passes. Favre's touchdowns-to-picks ratio is 24:3. In every other season, with the exception of his dormant rookie year, he's registered a double-digit pick count. What's changed?

Tim Yotter: The main thing is experience and a change in players surrounding him. One of the reasons Favre came to the Vikings was because of his familiarity with the system (he ran this system for 16 years in Green Bay) and the offensive coordinator (Darrell Bevell was his quarterbacks coach for six years in Green Bay). But Favre also cites Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson as being a major factor in his decision to come to Minnesota. Favre didn't want to have to be the focal point of the offense. So far, defenses are still loading up to stop Peterson, and so Favre is being allowed to throw more often than expected. But at some point defenses are going to have to respect Favre's abilities at age 40 or he'll continue to put up 300-plus yards a game and win by large margins. In essence, more single coverage means fewer interceptions and so do big leads that don't invoke Favre reverting into the gunslinger/risk-taker he once was.

Sidney Rice

AD: A big reason for Favre's success seems to be Sidney Rice, who Favre says is uncoverable. Where did this kid come from? Why wasn't he utilized before the Favre circus came to town?

TY: In a nutshell, it's been injuries that have limited Rice. He has dealt with ankle injuries and then last year he suffered a sprained posterior cruciate ligament that he tried to play through. It ended up completely altering his effectiveness. His hands have always been there and his body control has developed, but he is emerging because of his health and because Favre just has that much confidence in Rice's ability to create separation and make the difficult catches. Rice has come through many times in that regard. He was primarily thought of as a third-down and red zone receiver because he doesn't have great speed, but the Vikings are finding that because of his big frame he can still create separation at the last instant to get the ball. Also of note is that Rice worked with Cris Carter and Larry Fitzgerald Jr., a Minneapolis resident, during the offseason at the University of Minnesota, and Rice credits those workouts for instilling a better work ethic in him.

AD: The Vikings arrive in Arizona with the possibility of clinching their division title. A win over the Cardinals, coupled with a Green Bay Packers loss on Monday night, would give the Vikings their second straight title. What has impressed you most about this year's team and what needs to change heading into the final stretch?

TY: So far, their consistency has been most impressive. Favre has grown better with his increased familiarity with the surrounding talent, but they have always beaten the teams they should this year – most of the time handily, especially in the last two months. They were the better team at Pittsburgh, but a couple of key late-game mistakes (an interception off a deflection and a fumble, both of which were returned for touchdowns) kept them from being undefeated. They don't always start with a flurry, but they seem to hit their stride in the second quarter and start putting away games early. That has been pretty consistent of late. Since they have become better tacklers on defense – they struggled with that early in the year – I don't think there is much that needs to drastically change. They just need to continue to improve and show that they can handle pass defense against a good passing attack.

Brett Favre

AD: Favre has led the Vikings to a 10-1 record. But they have one of the easiest schedules in the league. How do you think they will hold up against the tougher teams in the league? Are the Vikings only as good as their schedule?

TY: The Vikings have had some easier opponents, but they handled all of those without much problem. When they've played the good teams, they have generally outplayed them – the exception possibly being Baltimore. Green Bay is 7-4 and the Vikings beat them handily in both of their meetings and outplayed Pittsburgh in a loss at Heinz Field. But you are right in insinuating that they haven't played a ton of quality opponents. Wins against the Browns, Lions and Rams aren't going to impress many people and the bulk of the Vikings' proving ground will come in December. That said, there hasn't been an opponent where I've felt the Vikings are outmatched. That could be the quality of the Vikings or it could be a lack of quality in the rest of their schedule.

AD: After the Vikings played the Chicago Bears, DE Jared Allen said it was probably one of the best rush games he's ever had. Kurt Warner isn't known for escaping the blitz, but he can read blitzes with the best of them. What does the Cardinals offensive line have to do to protect Warner, who is coming off a head injury? Have any teams been successful against Allen this year? If so, how?

Jared Allen

TY: The bulk of Allen's sacks have come against the NFC North. He has has 7½ of his 12½ sacks in two games against a Packers offensive line that was struggling with injuries at the time. But he has been pretty consistent putting pressure on the quarterback and the rest of the defensive line has been playing well too. If teams dedicate too much to him, Kevin Williams has the ability to rush from the inside and Ray Edwards has improved on the left end as well. Williams is doubled most of the time and Allen is usually doubled on passing downs. The improved play of Jimmy Kennedy and the quickness of Brian Robison have allowed the team to have pretty good pass-rush depth with a rotation of linemen. I would say the key to limiting Allen is to always have a running back or tight end chipping on his outside so the tackle can concentrate largely on stopping his inside move, which is how he got both of his sacks last week.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of the Viking Update. Amberly Dressler is the publisher of AZ Red Report.

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