Chris Steuber: How will the Vikings defense defend Brian Westbrook?
Tim Yotter: Indications are that the Vikings will not put a spy on Westbrook, but they will be very cognizant of where he is and where he is motioning. Linebacker Chad Greenway said Westbrook is probably the best all-around running back the Vikings have faced this season, and I’d agree with that assessment. The scary part for the Vikings is the number of receptions Westbrook has and how he is a prime target in the passing game. The defense has had enough trouble defending a team with average receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks, but if they have to worry about a very solid running back going out in routes beyond the line of scrimmage as well, they will have their hands full.
Steuber: The Eagles receivers have been inconsistent thus far, and the Vikings secondary has struggled. What’s the focus of the Vikings secondary this weekend?
Yotter: One of the reasons the Vikings secondary looks so bad on the stat sheet is that most teams throw the ball early and often against them, raising the total yardage they give up, which is how defenses are ranked. The two main focuses for this defense every week are limiting the explosive plays and creating turnovers. They have been pretty average at the first and very good at the second. Up until the Chicago Bears made a fourth-quarter comeback with two long passing touchdowns on the Vikings, they had been able to keep most the completions in front of the defenders and then count on solid tackling to limit the gains. If they do that, then they have more opportunities for turnovers as the game progresses, and they have converted those turnovers into four defensive touchdowns already this year. The key will be getting enough pressure on Donovan McNabb. Before last Sunday, when the Vikings had three sacks of Tony Romo, they had gone three straight games with only one sack in each of them.
Steuber: Is there a player on the Vikings roster that doesn’t get a lot of credit and somebody the Eagles should be aware of?
Yotter: Offensively, that player might be rookie receiver Sidney Rice, but that depends on the quarterback getting enough time and the Vikings making an effort to get it to him. Rice is tied for the league lead in third-down receptions (seven) among rookie receivers and is their only legitimate jump-ball receiver who can get after it in the red zone. If it comes to crunch time and they don’t go to Peterson, Rice is the best option in the passing game in tight quarters.
Steuber: After this Sunday’s game with the Eagles, the Vikings have two tough games against San Diego and at Lambeau Field to face the Packers. How crucial is this game for Minnesota?
Yotter: With a 2-4 record, the Vikings have still outscored their opponents this year, solid evidence that they have been in every game this season. Their stout run defense and aggressive pass defense, along with a very good running game, have allowed them to do that. However, they haven’t learned how to close games, so the focus is more on themselves than any other opponent. They can limit a running game like the Chargers can present, especially with an advantage of being at home, but it is always going to be about performance against the pass. Their game this weekend is critical for their own self-confidence in the offense. Everyone on the team needs to see that they can score points at even an average clip. If they fail again, there is the feeling that this team is close to starting the blame game – if not publicly then privately pointing fingers.
Steuber: What do the Vikings have to do on Sunday to get a win, and what’s your prediction?
Yotter: Trying to limit Westbrook will be their first key defensively, in running and receiving, and then seeing if they can force some turnovers by McNabb. The defense usually does give up decent yardage between the 20-yard lines, but they have been pretty solid in the red zone, where the Eagles have struggled offensively. So if they can continue that trend and get some explosive plays, between Peterson making defenders miss and hitting one or two deep passes, they should be able to win at home. But they have to become much better at extending drives on offense than they have been with their recent history. My prediction is that the Vikings will be able to get an early lead and do just enough to have that lead by the end of the game. They can’t win a shootout, but I don’t think Philadelphia can get them into that situation.