Apparently the Vikings aren't a one-man gang. Adrian Peterson didn't run wild and yet the Vikings still had their way with the Texans. Whether Houston is a fraud is up for debate, but does that game signal Minnesota would be a major playoff threat should it reach the playoffs?
Tim: I still don't think the Vikings are quite ready to contend with the big boys in Super Bowl contention, but they are much closer to doing that now than they have been at any point since their 2009 ride to the NFC Championship Game, and this time they have an ascending roster as far as being able to sustain it for years to come. Peterson obviously is on a tear, but the defense has been playing very well recently. The biggest question I still have for this defense is if they can stop an elite quarterback with multiple receiving weapons. That's why I think the Packers will be a great test for the Vikings. If they can stand up defensively against Green Bay's multiple receiving threats, then the sky is the limit. Of course, Christian Ponder has been playing better, but I'd need to see that sustained for longer than a two-game stretch to believe they can handle any type of game.
When did you think Peterson was back to being Peterson? In my book, he's the league MVP and one of the most remarkable stories in NFL history.
Tim: I agree on both accounts. I was really amazed at the things he was doing in the offseason when you see him running hills and pulling trainers around five months after surgery, but I still wondered if he would be able to adequately cut on a dime to be effective. It wasn't until about six games into the season that I started to think he might be back. It took a few games more to think that he might actually be better than before, and by this point I'm convinced he's better than ever. I think his reads are the best they've ever been, his patience is better (he's following fullback Jerome Felton when most of his explosive runs occur), and his cutting ability is at least as good as it ever has been. I'm not sure he's as fast as ever, but he's been so good setting up blocks that he usually has a lead before the footrace is on with defensive backs that he is beating them to the end zone. Given how good he is on and off the field, I would love to see him get the record. It couldn't happen to a more humble superstar.
How are the Vikings getting anything done when Peterson is the whole offense (now that Percy Harvin is out)? Or am I missing something?
Tim: You aren't missing much. They have done a good job of using Peterson the right amount in the last six to eight weeks, and of late they have started to get back to what is most effective in the passing game – using a lot of play-action (why wouldn't you?) and hitting tight end Kyle Rudolph on the rollouts. Ponder is beginning to (finally) look more comfortable in the pocket and the play-calling is (finally) getting him in some quick-rhythm passes that allows him to hit his back foot and fire rather giving him time to think about a rush that may or may not be coming. In my mind, Ponder's progress in the pocket will determine if he is the long-term solution at quarterback or not. I'd be surprised if he isn't the front-runner heading into next season, but he still needs to improve over his performance to date. A better receiving corps might help that.
Can you point to a few things to explain how the Vikings have gone from 3-13 to 9-6?
Tim: Obviously, Peterson has had a lot to do with that, but, of course, he was there for the majority of last season, as well. But the main reason is the health of the team and the additions they made in the draft. Matt Kalil is probably better at left tackle than Bryant McKinnie was the last several years he was with the Vikings. Harrison Smith is the best safety the Vikings have had since Darren Sharper – he doesn't quite have Sharper's nose for the ball yet, but he's a much harder hitter and better tackler. Blair Walsh has added an underrated element to the kicking game, not only with his impressive accuracy and 50-yard field goals, but he already has the franchise record for most touchbacks after Ryan Longwell struggled to get kickoffs into the end zone. And then fourth-rounders like receiver Jarius Wright and blocking tight end Rhett Ellison have also added to the contributing depth as fringe starters. So the combination of the youthful starting additions and overall health – Harvin is the only proven starter they have lost this year – have been changes from last year.
For years, the defense has revolved around Jared Allen, the Williams "brothers" and Antoine Winfield. Who's leading the way on a defense that has really played well the past few weeks and even on Dec. 2 at Green Bay?
Tim: Allen has probably dealt with more nagging injuries this year than before and Kevin Williams is still a legitimate starter, even if age is starting to catch up to him. But Chad Greenway has stepped forward into a leader of the defense – he leads the NFL in tackles – and Harrison Smith has provided attitude in the secondary. Smith plays with an aggressiveness that sometimes gets him fined, but he doesn't show signs of changing his hard-hitting style, and then there is Antoine Winfield. He remains decent in coverage, but I'd still challenge anyone to come up with a better tackling cornerback in the league. It will be interesting to see how he responds to a fracture in his hand and if that affects his tackling ability at all.