VU: Are you sold on the team yet at 2-0?
BL: Absolutely not. The interesting thing at Washington was the fact the offensive line dominated the fourth quarter. The defensive front seven of the Redskins was tired, and the Vikings actually put it in overdrive and dominated that last quarter. That's pretty much been their goal the whole year – keep the game close and give us an opportunity to win the fourth quarter. It's a lot like the philosophy that coach Bud Grant had when he coached us. The second game, I think they just happened to catch Carolina right with a lot of injuries. If you go 2-for-15 in third-down situations, you can't say, ‘Oh, we're going to the Super Bowl.' That becomes a little suspect. To lose Erasmus James, I think that's going to be a little bigger than they think. You really can't rely on a rookie to get a lot more playing time. Ray Edwards has got some speed and he closed one play that was done like a 10-year vet, but that hurts a little bit. You've got to stay a little healthy.
VU: Would you expect that it would be Ray Edwards then instead of Darrion Scott?
BL: No, you've got to go with Darrion Scott. He's got the experience. Watching the game last week, I couldn't understand why in crucial situations you have Pat Williams out, Kevin Williams out, you had Erasmus James out. They say you want to keep them fresh, well, if their philosophy is to rotate and keep them fresh, I really think the defense drops off enough when both Williams brothers (Kevin and Pat) are out of there. I think you're very suspect when you rotate too much. They're in shape now, let them play a whole game.
VU: Offensively, do you like seeing their smashmouth attitude?
BL: I love the attitude of the offensive line. Steve Hutchinson is the real deal. I think Matt Birk is still playing himself into shape. If you take off a year and you have his type of injuries, that's not the same Matt Birk I saw before the injuries. He's getting better each and every week, so I think he'll improve as the season goes on. If you talk to Matt, he'll say you play with the hand you're dealt. With that type of attitude, he doesn't make mental mistakes and he's working as hard as he can. Those operations he's had are coming around and he'll become stronger as the season goes on. A lot of times, the offensive line is not rooting the people off the ball, but I'm still a Mewelde Moore fan. I think he can get through the hole a little quicker. I know Chester Taylor's stats are looking better, but if you check out his stats for the first two or three quarters, there's not much to that running game.
VU: They don't seem very concerned about those averages to start out the game. It seems like they'd be content to run it 20 times if they're gaining 1 or 2 yards a time, just to set up the fourth quarter.
BL: That's the part that surprises me. How can you not be concerned? You're 2-for-15 on third downs. They're all upset about the third-down situation, but I don't know how many of those were 10 and longer or 8 and longer. When you get 1 or 2 yards a crack, you're going to put yourself in a very awkward third-down situation. Personally, I think they're blowing smoke. I know they're concerned, but they're just trying to not make such a big media deal because the media is ready to jump on them for anything negative. If you know football, you've got to be concerned.
VU: It seemed like Marcus Johnson continued to struggle against Julius Peppers, and they never really seemed to adjust much with a running back or tight end.
BL: There are two things. Marcus has to grow up and Julius Peppers is unbelievable. He almost caught Richard Owens on that touchdown. Think of the speed on that and the adjustment he made. He's a Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer potentially. Marcus has to grow that way. If you try to overcompensate sometimes for one of your players, that takes away from the strength of what you're trying to do in your entire game plan. So sometimes you have to stay with the hand you're dealt. That's where a coach makes a decision. As far as Marcus Johnson, that's a growing experience. He had some good plays, but nobody talks about those because they review the instant replay of the defense's best plays and they got a few on Marcus. That was a great character builder for Marcus and he showed improvement. I think he took a big step forward even though he got kicked on quite a few plays. I still see him taking a step forward. It's very simple to see that and say, ‘Why aren't they bringing a tight end over?' Jermaine Wiggins isn't looking for bodies because he's not a blocking tight end to start with. When you double up on that side, you have made yourself weaker in other places.
VU: If they continue to run Chester Taylor as much as they have, do you think the guy can hold up and be effective throughout the season?
BL: No. Nobody has ever done it in the history of the National Football League. Nobody has ever done that based on the number of runs that he's had and the amount of touches he's had. Based on that, he won't be able to go the whole year that way. I wouldn't run a guy constantly when he's only getting 1 or 2 yards, and come the fourth quarter I'd run Mewelde because that's when the offensive line is more dominant. Where Taylor gets 10, Mewelde would have gotten 12 or 14 with the speed difference.
VU: What do you think of Troy Williamson as a kick returner?
BL: He's very hesitant back there. If I was catching them, I'd be hesitant too. You've got those guys coming down and throwing their body at you, and certain people don't want to hit the hole as fast as they should and take a chance when it's there. Rather than pound the hole that's only going to be there for a second, they'll wait and hope for a bigger gap to run through. I don't think his personality at this point in his career is really strong enough to make him a great kickoff returner.
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: Things to Improve
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