Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

With the Colts and Vikings set to clash Sunday in Minneapolis, our experts, Eric Hartz of and Tim Yotter of, got together to talk about the two teams. We begin this two-part series with five questions from Eric to Tim.

Eric Hartz: I've always felt that Tarvaris Jackson isn't as bad a quarterback as his reputation, and I thought he might take some positive steps in his game this year. But he didn't play well in Monday night's loss to the Packers, with a 59.0 passer rating. Will the Vikings' failure to upgrade this position in the offseason come back to haunt them?

Tim Yotter: Of all the money the Vikings poured into their offseason acquisitions, spending more than $60 million in guaranteed money to free agents and in a trade for Jared Allen this offseason, they remained pretty steadfast in their support of Tarvaris Jackson. I think they've found over the years that developing a young quarterback in the system helps maintain the consistency of the offense through the years.

However, they need to get consistent play from their quarterback and they haven't found that yet in just over a year with Jackson as their starter. He shows promise, for sure, but he hasn't made a habit out of transferring that promise onto the game field. If there is one position that could make or break their season, it is quarterback. Brad Childress' coaching longevity in Minnesota just might depend on Jackson's performance as well.

EH: The Vikings had the NFL's best run defense last season, but the worst pass defense. In addition to adding Jared Allen to rush the passer, what else has Minnesota done to address this weakness? How big of a concern is it with Peyton Manning and Co. coming to town?

Tyrell Johnson brings down Baltimore's Ray Rice in a preseason game
AP Photo/Gail Burton

TY: Besides Allen, the other significant addition the Vikings made was an investment in safety Madieu Williams, whom they felt was an underrated safety with playmaking range. Unfortunately for them, Williams suffered a neck injury in training camp and hasn't gotten so much as a preseason rep. Instead, the Vikings have had to turn to rookie second-round pick Tyrell Johnson, who they like but would rather have learn from the sidelines for awhile.

The main culprit last year, in my opinion, was not being able to get enough of a pass rush with the front four, but then in the opener against the Green Bay Packers they didn't register one sack. Now they get to face Manning? It's a huge concern, and finding a way to get to Manning to at least disrupt him is a focus of the defensive linemen.

They are duly impressed with Manning's ability to get rid of the ball quickly, so they will likely hope to get pressure up the middle — the quickest path to the quarterback, as Kevin Williams likes to say — and hope to knock down a few passes when they can get to him.

EH: Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is out for the first four games of the season after being suspended. How did his replacement, Artis Hicks, look against the Packers, and do you anticipate him being able to handle Dwight Freeney this weekend?

TY: Hicks will be questionable with an elbow injury he suffered in the third quarter on Monday night. He has been wearing a big brace on the elbow and looked ginger while working on a blocking bag in Wednesday's practice.

In place of him, the Vikings used former second-round pick Marcus Johnson. The two strikes against him are that he isn't used to working on the left side of the line and he was a fringe guy at the time of roster cutdowns. It would have been interesting to see if the Vikings would have kept him if McKinnie wouldn't have been suspended.

No question, McKinnie let his teammates down and may have contributed to their loss on Monday. The left side of the line didn't give up any sacks against Green Bay (Cullen Jenkins and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila), but Freeney is another level of quick. My guess is that they will look to try to use that against him with a big running game.

EH: After Allen, WR Bernard Berrian was the big free-agent pickup for the Vikings, but he and Jackson hooked up just three times on eight targets Monday. Is the toe injury that slowed him in the preseason hampering him, or is there another problem?

TY: I think the toe will be a situation to monitor all year and likely give him problems, but there were two passes to him that could have drawn pass interference — one that did draw the flag. Another pass early in the game he had no chance at. So I think they are getting about what they wanted out of him in a downfield threat. If they can hit on a few balls per game and stretch the field to give Adrian Peterson more running room, they will have accomplished their goal. I don't see him as an eight-catch-per-game guy, but he should have 4-6 catches a game and a few of those being deep passes.

EH: This is a matchup between two teams that figured before the season to be playoff, if not Super Bowl, contenders. Now, the loser is facing an 0-2 start and will be scrambling to make up ground. If this is a "must-win" for the Vikings, what must they do if they hope to win?

TY: While their offense struggled, especially the passing game, I'm not as worried about the offense because I think there are some matchups they can exploit in the running game. However, from a Vikings defensive perspective, this could be their toughest test of the season.

If they are to win this game, it means that they will have somehow limited Peyton Manning's effectiveness, but given the Vikings' defensive ranking last against the pass last year, they are going to have to play above their normal level to get it done. More than likely, that would mean that Peyton Manning still has some rust and doesn't have Dallas Clark. If those two factors go in the Colts' favor, then I think it will be up to the Vikings to create turnovers and try to anticipate a couple of pass plays.

They talk about staying patient and only allowing the short passes in front of them. However, I'm not sure they will be able to hold in that mode as the game progresses. If the Colts can slowly build a lead, the Vikings will be hard-pressed to stay patient knowing that their offense doesn't seem ready to convert comebacks on a consistent basis.

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