Tim Yotter, Publisher, VikingUpdate.com: The fact that he has thrown more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3) is more concerning because of the latter – three passing touchdowns in five games is not going yield a playoff team if that trend continues the rest of the season. I attribute the lack of touchdowns to a few different areas. First and foremost is the team’s horrible red zone efficiency. They are ranked 31st in the league in converting red zone appearances into touchdowns – only 25 percent of the time – and they seem unwilling to throw the ball into the end zone and force the issue once they are within striking distance.
Some of that, I believe, has to do with them still getting used to the new offense and head coach Brad Childress still being a rookie play-caller. Another reason is that they just don’t have a solid go-to receiver. Marcus Robinson is their best red zone jump-ball threat, but they haven’t used him much in that role lately. So Vikings fans should be more concerned about the offense’s overall inability to score touchdowns than with Johnson’s four interceptions in five games.
As for another option at quarterback if the trend continues, they drafted Tarvaris Jackson at the end of the second round in April, and he did have an impressive off-season, but he likely isn’t ready to lead a potential playoff team. They also traded for Brooks Bollinger in early September, and he’s currently the No. 2 guy. He would probably be serviceable if Johnson was to succumb to an injury, but I doubt they’d replace the more veteran Johnson with Bollinger anytime soon. I think head coach Brad Childress appreciates Johnson’s conservative approach.
Doug Farrar: The Vikings currently rank 25th in rushing plays, 24th in rushing yards, and 30th in rushing touchdowns. Is Chester Taylor the sort of back who can carry a team, or is coach Brad Childress looking to put his eggs in a different basket?
Tim Yotter: Childress seems intent on staying the course with Taylor as his feature back. They committed to him in free agency and are sticking with that. In this department, I think it has taken the offensive line longer to get used to their new zone blocking schemes than most anticipated, and I think Taylor still needs to recognize and hit the holes a little better. It seems to be a matter of jelling together, as they do have the players up front, especially on the left side of the line with Pro Bowlers in center Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson and developing talent Bryant McKinnie at left tackle. Taylor is on pace to break the team mark for most rushes in a season, but his average needs to improve, which it has been the last couple of games.
Doug Farrar: Minnesota’s receivers don’t really stand out individually, but the production is decent. Who is the team’s best receiver, and why? Who presents the biggest matchup problem for Seattle’s small, fast cornerbacks?
Tim Yotter: Troy Williamson has the most talent, but it is raw talent right now. He has a tendency to drop balls, but he does have the speed to stretch the field if can start to be a threat underneath to set up the longer routes. Travis Taylor is a decent slot receiver in this West Coast offense. Jermaine Wiggins is a tight end that just seems to find an opening despite what most people would consider more of a coach-potato body than that of a chiseled professional athlete. But, as mentioned before, against a small cornerback corps, the most consistent bet would be Marcus Robinson if they used him more. He’s not a starter, but he’s a good chain mover when used. The wide receivers are one of the weak points in this offense, at least the lack of a sure-out No. 1 receiver.
Doug Farrar: Obviously, Steve Hutchinson’s return to Seattle is the big story this week … but on Monday, Childress said that Hutchinson wishes he’d played better to this point. How is he working out on that line, and is Bryant McKinnie potentially the sort of elite left tackle who can live up to the massive contract he recently signed?
Tim Yotter: Hutchinson, like the rest of the line, still seems to be adapting to the schemes and calls on the offensive line. That said, he has been their best offensive linemen this year and I see no signs that he won’t continue to be a dominant blocker as the season progresses. The Vikings took a proactive approach in locking up McKinnie before he hit the free-agent market in 2007, but the size of his contract is based more on potential to this point. He has become a very solid pass blocker, but I’m not sure he’ll ever be a dominant run blocker because of his body type. He’s very tall and, while he has good feet, he’s not the type of guy who can get to the second level quickly on a running play. That said, with the importance of a left tackle and the lack of really high-caliber ones out there, McKinnie is probably worth the contract as he continues to improve and reach his prime. He is on the cusp of being a Pro Bowl player, but I’m not sure he’s quite there yet.
Doug Farrar: How does Childress’ approach differ from Mike Tice’s? How have those differences revealed themselves on the field?
Tim Yotter: One is night, the other is day. Tice wore his emotions on his sleeve and sometimes wanted to be a player’s friend and other times berated him publicly. Eventually, that inconsistency started to erode the trust of the players. With Childress, he has been a straight shooter with the players, telling them what he thinks whether they like it or not. When it comes to being tough on players and wanting them to fight through injuries, I see similarities between Childress and Tice, but Childress is much more business-like and even-keel than Tice. He’s probably also not the risk-taker with the offense that Tice was, whether that’s good or bad.