VU: Are you surprised with how Baltimore was able to move the ball on the Vikings despite the Vikings defense playing pretty well previously?
BL: I wasn't as surprised as I'm sure a lot of people were. Kyle Boller was a first-round draft choice – I believe he was the third quarterback taken in that year – and when a quarterback gets on a hot streak, he just stays hot. A lot of players are streaky, but more importantly I was reading quotes about him and he was saying the game was starting to slow down for him more and he starting to understand the game. I picked up on those quotes and I was talking to some friends of mine in Baltimore, and they said he's really hyper, he's too hyper when he gets into it. Well, now he said he wasn't as hyper, he's calmed down on the sidelines before the game. A parallel to draw is with Marcus Johnson, the Vikings' second-round draft choice. Mike Tice has to pull him out sometimes to calm him down when he has those penalties. It's no different there with Boller.
VU: Do you think that knowing Boller's hyper tendencies from earlier in the season, is that why the Vikings blitzed so much?
BL: I thought that was right in trying to get him frustrated. Earlier in the season, he was getting frustrated quite easily. The Vikings were sending seven or eight people, and unfortunately the offensive line did an excellent job picking up our blitzes and he really didn't have to get frustrated. When Derrick Mason caught that one touchdown on Dovonte Edwards, the rookie, you get a matchup like that because they're blitzing. That's one thing about a blitz, you leave your corner hanging out to dry and you had better get to the quarterback quick enough. But you have to give Baltimore's blocking scheme a tremendous plus on that because it took away the Vikings' call.
VU: Tice said early in the season the Vikings blitzed a lot and it wasn't as effective as they had hoped, and they found that maybe they shouldn't be that aggressive. Then they were aggressive against Baltimore, so my question is: Were they more worried about playing to somebody else's weaknesses than their own strengths?
BL: They knew they could stop the run. They felt pretty good about that with Pat and Kevin Williams pretty much establishing that up front now, and they've really taken away the run the last eight weeks. They assumed that was going to happen, and then they said, ‘OK, now how do we go against Boller because Boller cannot beat us with his passing – he hasn't done it all year except for the Green Bay game the week before?' That's where the coaches made the decision, and it may look bad 20-20 and you say we should have stayed with the base defense as strong as we've been playing. That's a coach's decision because coaches always want to know how predictable they are. Randy Hanson breaks down film all the time for tendencies, and when coaches try to get away from that sometimes it can jump up and bite them in the butt. I'll always remember the quote that John Madden had when they played Super Bowl XI against us. They said, ‘You run two out of three times to your left,' and they asked him what he was going to do in the Super Bowl. He said, ‘Well, I'm going to run two out of three times to our left.' That's exactly what they did. That was the strength of their offense, and they ran right at the Vikings' right side of their defense and they were very successful.
VU: Were you surprised that they went back and forth on the running backs again – they been doing it all year with these guys – that they went so quickly to Mewelde Moore?
BL: With the running back situation, nobody has really stepped up. Part of it is with the offensive line there have not been any great holes to drive a truck through, that's for sure. Not only are they trying to base it on who's the healthiest, but who has the best body language. You want to stick with one particular back instead of rotating the other backs in and out. You only have two backs, basically – you can't go to Ciatrick Fason. But the offensive line has got to be a little more aggressive and not just catch it sometimes. They have to get off the ball and be aggressive sometimes where the back can pick up a yard. I know on short yardage, you've got to go low with those defensive linemen. You can't be one-on-one with them and block them high because that's going to be a stalemate at the line of scrimmage. If you get a stalemate at the line of scrimmage, the defense wins. You've got to look at the offensive line too and are they getting low enough and aggressive enough, and I don't think there's that consistent surge to help either one of those backs. Sometimes you're hot and sometimes you're not. The coaches are trying to find out which ones are hot that day.
VU: The Vikings had a fair amount of success on offense in the first half, but the second half was pretty dry. Did you see any differences there?
BL: The big difference was on that first drive things worked so well and everybody had the right tempo, and then in the second half it was kind of like they were pressing. They were ahead and they were trying to keep it close. I think sometimes players' minds will wander, looking at the clock, knowing you have to win it, how much time is left in the game. When you're first starting off, you're just going to establish things, sometimes a player's concentration level will get off that track after the first drive.
VU: Obviously the talk this week and probably early next week will be on the status of Tice. What do you think will happen with his job and what do you think should happen?
BL: I think they'll sign him to a two- or three-year contract. They'll have a buyout clause in there, and knowing Mike with the confidence he has, they might spread a win-loss clause in the contract itself. But Mike has grown up each and every week and he deserves to be a head coach in the National Football League. You take him from four years ago, his first game in Baltimore to now, you watch him on the sidelines and he's a lot calmer. He understands that he can't be everybody's friend now. He's starting to tell the players, ‘Hey, you don't like it here, then adios.' I like that attitude because that's the way Bud was. If the players don't come in in shape, then cut them because if they're not going to come in during the offseason and they're not worried about their bodies, get rid of them because they're not going to be there come crunch time. I could go over thousands of different players who come in like that – not in shape, lackadaisical. Come crunch time, those players will not be able to get it up for a big game or for the big stretch run. It's as predictable as the day is long. Mike knows that and now he's getting his type of players in there – the ones that will hit the books, the ones that won't make the mental mistakes. The biggest thing Bud Grant ever did was emphasize, ‘Don't make mentals.' If you look at the New England Patriots, I don't believe Bill Belichick puts up with too many mental mistakes in that organization. I think Tice is all over that now and I think that's great.
VU: I agree with you that he has grown up in a lot of aspects as a coach. Where do you think he needs to continue to improve?
BL: God bless Mike, he's so honest all the time, but I think sometimes you have to keep things to yourself as far as how you are going to address ballplayers and if you are going to work them hard one week. That's you doing it for a reason – whether the club needs a kick in the butt or the club needs a little more contact – but that's for you to know and work with the club. Don't tell the media. The media doesn't understand anyway that certain players you hug and kiss and certain players you kick in the fanny. Certain things have to stay in that locker room. Sometimes you say what you're going to do to people and certain times it may slip out the wrong way and teams might say, ‘Hey, they're going to go more to the tight end,' so you get a jump start for the offensive plan. I'm not saying it happens, I'm just saying it can happen. I did see it happen once, so I'm basing that on one out of 64 games.
Bob Lurtsema was a 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins VikingUpdate.com for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.
Lurtsema's Reaction: On Loss, Tice's Future
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