Patriots Insider's Jon Scott spent a few minutes with VikingUpdate.com's Tim Yotter to get a better perspective on what this Minnesota team brings with them as they arrive in Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots in Week 8. Yotter, a longtime Minnesota insider, shares his thoughts on the men in purple from Favre to Moss and more.
1) The Vikings duo of Pat and Kevin Williams has long been known throughout the league as one of the best run-stuffing duos in the NFL. Do they still deserve that label, and are there any other players who deserve credit for success of the run defense the past few years?
Tim Yotter: Pat is now the oldest defensive player in the league and he looks like he is starting to show signs of it. He has played through lingering injuries the last few years, but this year teams are finally starting to have a little better success running the ball against the Vikings. They led the league in rush defense from 2006-2008 and last year they were second. However, they are now 11th – still respectable but no longer elite. Jared Allen is often thought of as a pass-rushing defensive end, but he plays the run pretty well too, and the linebacker corps has been steady in chasing them down. They are no longer one of the best in the league, but they are still good enough to win.
2) Adrian Petersen is the second leading rusher in the NFL with 684 yards, and leads the league by averaging 114 yards per game. Is his success more a product of his own doing, or is the line really that good?
Yotter: You have to give it mostly to him. His talent is unquestioned and unmatched, with a freaky combination of speed and brute strength, and he has the desire to be the best. Up until this year, he was a bit too excitable and would often run down the backs of his offensive linemen, but he appears to have become more patient and lets his blocks develop. He hasn't had a ton of long runs yet this year, but he pretty consistently picks up four or five yards a carry and has put the offense in good down-and-distance situations. Last year, the issue was fumbles, as he led the league among non-quarterbacks, but he has been rock steady with the rock this year.
3) The Vikings defense has just six sacks on the season and is on pace to finish with 16 for the year. Last year the unit managed 48 sacks. What's the difference this season, and is it as much of a problem as it seems?
Yotter: It is interesting to note that the pass defense has been as good as ever around here, but you are correct that the sacks are way down. Last year's tally of 48 led the league. Now they are on pace for exactly one-third of that total. Jared Allen, who has had 14.5 each of the last two years and 16 in 2007, has only one sack. Teams seem to have discovered the art of the quick passing game against the Vikings. The defense doesn't see too many five- and seven-step drops, and the Vikings legislate against the deep pass anyway with their Cover-2 defense. That means they are willing to settle for keeping short passes in front of them and making the tackles. It has been a bend-don't-break type of philosophy for quite a while, and they have had pretty good success. On the whole, the defense hasn't been the problem. They will sometimes give up yardage, but they have been pretty good about stopping offenses as they near the red zone.
4) Brad Childress is no stranger to controversy when it comes to relating to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Childress' first notable move came when he claimed former Patriots TE Garrett Mills off waivers from New England, then went on a radio show seemingly boasting that he ignored Belichick's request not to claim Mills. Childress also went public with comments that the Vikings were able to snatch Percy Harvin in the draft, thwarting the Patriots, who were one pick behind them. This week Childress called the Patriots masters at signal-stealing (a reference perhaps to Spygate). Is Childress making these public comments for a reason other than just showing his disdain for the Patriots coach? And do you think he may be doing it as a way to legitimize himself in the coaching fraternity?
Yotter: Most likely yes and yes. I tend to view the comments as Childress trying to stand up to the neighborhood bully in the coaching ranks, but without the level of success that Belichick has, Childress' comments and actions don't hold much weight or purpose. The fact is that the Vikings were thrashed in that 31-7 drubbing by the Patriots in 2006, which was the impetus for the "stealing signals" comments. He felt that the Patriots knew exactly what was coming after waiting for the Vikings to send in their defensive signals. The Vikings appear to have made the right call on Harvin, but Mills never panned out, so it wasn't like Childress found the next Dwight Clark. All in all, this hasn't been a great week for Childress. Between the signals comment and criticizing the officials, which brought a $35,000 fine, and Brett Favre hobbling around, things are tense around Winter Park. If the Vikings slip to 2-5, they will only get worse.
5) Brett Favre's ankle issue. Do you think he'll play to keep his streak alive? Would the Vikings be better off is he didn't play?
Yotter: I think Favre will lobby extremely hard to play and take a pain-killing shot to try to make it happen. Ultimately, it will come down to Brad Childress' decision. The two of them don't have a great relationship, so it will be interesting to see if Childress tries to re-establish control, assert his authority and makes the call to sit Favre and end his 291-game streak. As much as Childress might want to do what's best for the team and make sure his quarterback is healthy, ultimately Favre pulls a lot of weight with some of the veterans on the team, so a move to sit him could backfire if Tarvaris Jackson starts and struggles. Frankly, it's anybody's guess how this thing will turn out because it's likely going to be a Sunday decision after they see Favre warming up before the game.
6) How big of an impact has Randy Moss made on the Vikings offense since he was traded to the team? And who benefits the most from the trade: Favre, Childress, Moss himself or someone else?
Yotter: Favre has wanted to play with Moss for years. He lobbied the Packers to go after him in 2007 when the Raiders made him available and again when he became a free agent in 2008. As former Packers contract negotiator Andrew Brandt pointed out on the National Football Post, a day after the Patriots re-signed Moss, Favre "retired" from the Packers. That said, Moss hasn't had a huge impact here yet. He has commanded coverage from the defense, which has helped Percy Harvin in the slot especially. Harvin seems to love Moss, but I'm not sure the Vikings are going to re-sign Moss to a multi-year deal and keep him in purple beyond this season. At this losing rate – the Vikings are 1-2 with Moss and 1-2 before Moss this season – it seems like only a matter of time before Moss gets frustrated and makes some public scene.
Prediction for the game (and why)
Yotter: Patriots 23, Vikings 20. The Vikings are faced with this choice: a hobbled Brett Favre, who might not be able to move around well enough to avoid pressure, or a quarterback that hasn't started a game since 2008 going against a Bill Belichick defense. Neither option is good, and therefore each of them would likely have a hard time exploiting the Patroits' weaknesses in the secondary. I look for the Vikings to try to establish the run with Peterson, and if it's Jackson at QB, I look for them to try to move the pocket and create throwing lanes or scrambling options for Jackson. The Vikings will need to hit on a couple of big passing plays to give them a chance.