Michael Lombardo: Adrian Peterson is the runaway rookie of the year and the league's leading rusher. However, he has been held to 70 yards or less in each of his last two games. How is he coping with the extra defensive attention and how will he fare against a Chargers run defense that ranks No. 7 in the league?
Tim Yotter: Mentally and emotionally, Peterson handles everything extremely well. Vikings coach Brad Childress talks about Peterson being a team player, and he really seems to be exactly that from the many press conferences and side sessions I've seen him conduct.
His patience and competitive spirit have been tested in a variety of ways since he got to Minnesota. First, he had to endure months of speculation about his collarbone possibly needing surgery. Eventually, the Vikings determined it did not. Then he had to handle being called the No. 2 back behind Chester Taylor, despite Taylor having injury issues to start the season. Childress reiterated that statement again after Peterson's 224-yard outburst – a franchise single-game record – against the Bears. Finally, Peterson has been named the starter, so teams the last two games have stacked the line of scrimmage to stop him.
In general, that strategy has worked because the Vikings' passing game has struggled so badly that teams don't have to respect it like defenses that face the Chargers with their various weapons in addition to LaDainian Tomlinson. That means most of time of lately, Peterson has been limited to short gains in cramped quarters. However, if he can catch a play call that exposes a weakness to a defense and get to the second level, that is when he's most dangerous. He's still a very solid between-the-tackles guy who can move a pile, but it's when he gets in space that he's superb.
ML: What is the latest on the injury front at the quarterback position? Will Tarvaris Jackson and/or Kelly Holcomb be available this weekend? Will the Vikings seek to add another quarterback if those two are unable to go?
TY: It's looking and sounding more and more like Tarvaris Jackson could be ready to go this weekend, despite a fractured index finger on his throwing hand. If he can play, he will start, according to Childress. But there are probably two reasons for Childress' proclamation of Jackson as the starter: 1) The other options haven't played all that well either and; 2) The Vikings really need to find out if Jackson can play through minor injuries and if he can still be considered a quarterback for the future.
That last point needs to be determined this season so a team that has the talent to make the playoffs in other areas can put a competent player at the most important position on the field, whether that is Jackson finally showing he can be that player or the team going in another direction and trying to develop Jackson further behind a proven veteran.
Holcomb most likely will not be able to go this weekend as he was still in pain on Wednesday with his whiplash-like neck injury. It will either be Jackson or Brooks Bollinger, who has the best passer rating on the team but also has run himself into sacks in his limited action.
ML: Obviously, the Vikings have not received adequate production from their wide receivers. Have you seen anything in former top-seven pick Troy Williamson to justify his lofty draft status? Also, what are your thoughts on rookies Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison? Are the modest receiving numbers the fault of the wideouts or the quarterbacks?
TY: No, I haven't seen anything from Williamson – especially on a consistent basis – to justify him being the No. 7 overall draft pick in the same year that Shawne Merriman was available. At the time, the Vikings had just traded away Randy Moss and got enamored with Williamson's speed at the scouting combine. He has speed, but he has vision issues and problems catching the ball, which, as you might deduce, is a bit of a problem at that position. When he catches the ball consistently, he's fine, but he just hasn't been consistent enough. He might not even be a long-term starter.
Sidney Rice has a chance to a very good red zone and third-down target because of his height (6-4), jumping ability and very good hands and body control. Right now, he probably lacks a little strength to get off the jam and precision route-running, but I expect him to be a solid starter for years to come. He is leads NFC rookies with nine third-down catches, and that number would likely be higher with better play at the quarterback position.
Allison has shown flashes at points during the offseason and preseason, but he has been inactive for three games so far this season. He doesn't seem to have any special qualities in one area, but if he could become more consistent, he could work his way into a reserve role at some point in the future.
ML: As good as the Chargers are in defending the run, the Vikings are even better. What is it about the Vikings' scheme that makes them so difficult to run against? What role does former Charger Ben Leber play in those run-stopping efforts?
TY: Their effectiveness against the run has a lot to do with their two defensive tackles, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. Most of the time, they are taking on double teams, which frees up the linebackers to flow quickly to the ball. Even so, Pat Williams has his share of tackles-for-loss and is just a beast in stopping running backs in their tracks.
With the tackles are tying up blockers, that has freed the linebackers to shoot the gaps and meet the running backs at the line of scrimmage or near it. They don't allow too many running backs to get free on long runs. Leber has been a very consistent player in that area, but he seems especially suited to timing his blitzes well and applying pressure on the quarterback. Up until recently, he was always taken off the field in the nickel defense, which has him third among the starting linebackers in tackles, but he has been a solid, consistent player for them.
ML: What is the latest on DE Erasmus James? How soon do you expect him to get back on the field? Does he have a chance to become a bookend opposite Kenechi Udeze or does Ray Edwards have that spot nailed down long-term?
TY: James just hasn't seemed to fully get his burst back since having two surgeries on his knee in the last 13 months after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 2 of 2006 and then needing a clean-up procedure after the season. I'm not convinced he trusts his knee yet, and he was only active for the Chicago game almost three weeks ago. Since then, he injured his shoulder. I'm not sure he'll make his way back into the starting lineup this year, but they could really use a bit more pressure on the quarterback.
Edwards has been a pleasant surprise this year. He was drafted with the reputation from Purdue as possibly being a bit lazy and having issues with the coaching staff. He has been anything but lazy for the Vikings, chasing down plays from the back end and providing a decent pass rush at times. Right now, he and Kenechi Udeze offer them the best combination of base-defense ends, with rookie Brian Robison used in obvious passing situations.
ML: The Vikings have lost five of their last six games after going 6-10 in Brad Childress' first year with the team. How much slack does the second-year coach have? Do you see him sticking around beyond next season?
TY: The facts are that he took over a 9-7 team from the 2005 season and called it the "plum" job opening in the NFL. He then went 6-10 last year, and since a 4-2 start in 2006 his team has only won four of the last 17 games. His biggest issue seems to be at the quarterback position, where many believed he needed to go after a proven veteran in the offseason. Instead, he rolled the dice on a second-year quarterback that many people felt was a reach late in the second round of the 2006 draft. So his ability to judge talent and nurture a quarterback – two things he staked his reputation on – are rightly being questioned.
The Wilf ownership group would like nothing more than for Childress to succeed, but so far he hasn't and he runs the risk of losing his veteran players in a big hurry if things don't turn around in the next week or two. Besides the aforementioned decline in wins, there has been a decline in attendance, and this week the Vikings were in need of a buyout from the local CBS station to keep from a local blackout on television. That's the second time this year they needed an assist from the local TV stations carrying the game. It seems they are delaying the inevitable – the first blackout of a Vikings games in a decade. If there aren't serious signs of a turnaround in the second half of this season and the Wilfs opt to keep Childress on board, I'm convinced that more of the ticket base will leave until they see a winner again.
Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Vikings II
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