VU: Do you think there will be a change made at quarterback?
BL: Truly, there shouldn't be. The sad part about the situation is that before this last week, Brad Johnson probably had been playing the best of any of the offensive players, except for maybe on occasion Chester Taylor when he's having one of his great days. But Brad, with his experience, he has to play in a comfort zone. I actually think he and some of the other players, when they line up for a play they know they are very limited on the success of that play. Players shouldn't think like that. Players should know that each and every play is going to be successful, and I don't see that with the body language or the end result of what's happening with the offense.
VU: If it's gotten to the point that you don't think players believe in this offense, then wouldn't a change make sense, not that their disbelief is necessarily based on the player performance?
BL: Yes, I am saying that the players don't believe it, but I'm basically repeating what they've said to reporters. The change has to come from the coaches themselves. I've said this many times before: You cannot continually blame the players. Coaches have got to stand up and take responsibility. Mike Tomlin on defense, he'll stand tall each and every time and the players will stand tall. Hey, if you get your butt kicked, it isn't a big deal – as long as you're working hard. But when you go through this many weeks, 12 weeks into the season – actually 13 plus training camp, plus about 35,000 minicamps – you should have a comfort zone and believe in it.
VU: Do you think the problems stem from the offense being too complicated to learn, or that maybe it's just too limiting for the players to make adjustments on the field?
BL: The complication level, you can put in too many things as far as offensive game plan goes, but it really comes down to the basics of tackling and blocking. When we played against the Dallas Cowboys (in the 1970s), they had 53 different formations trying to confuse us, so we just went with a 4-3 zone and 4-3 man and we ended up beating them. They simplified the defense on that particular game. I think that's what Mike Tomlin has done for the Vikings defense – they simplified it. I know the defensive line feels more comfortable with the defensive situation this year compared to last year. But you've got to believe in the play when you line up, and I think there are a lot of people that know it's not going to work. I know on the other side of the ball when I can call so many of their plays as a veteran defensive player, I would start to play the plays and that creates an opportunity where you can jump a route and actually come up and gamble on a few occasions. But remember, if you gamble, you can get burned and I noticed that the Bears have five in the box and sometimes six, and they gambled a few times and they did get slapped in the fanny. But that's smart defense to take your veteran players and let them gamble. Remember, the Chicago Bears had all 22 regulars coming back from last season. Whether they've been in the league two or three years, they are veterans.
VU: If Johnson is benched this week, is there any shot that they can go back to him with any success later in the season or even next season? Or, if you make that move, have you basically given up on him leading the Vikings?
BL: By limiting what he can do and by not allowing him to play into his strengths, you really can't bring him back next year. Coach Childress isn't going to change his philosophy, so he has to get somebody that is going to fit his philosophy. But it's more than just Brad. If anybody can come back from it, Brad Johnson is one of the classiest guys you're ever going to meet. If he is going to hear, ‘Hey, Brad, go back in there' in the third quarter next week, Brad would go in there with the most professional pride as possible and go to the best of his ability.
VU: If they would actually go to Tarvaris Jackson, is that a signal to the players that they are looking to the future or do you think the players would be able to rally around Jackson for these last four games?
BL: If the defense wasn't playing as well as they are, I would say they are looking forward to next year. But this defense has given them so many opportunities to win games throughout the season, no player with any type of positive attitude could be negative that they're throwing in the season. Defense will keep them close, just make a play.
VU: How about the offensive line? Do you feel like Jason Whittle and Mike Rosenthal, putting Whittle's false start penalties aside, is that the best combination so far?
BL: It's the best they've ever run against any team this year. When you can put up the stats they did against the No. 1 defense in the league, I'd have to say you've done something right. What they did by picking up that fifth or sixth man that came in the box, they got the correct people. Even when one play was unfortunately missed by the back when he didn't do his job and it looks like the offensive lineman's fault, it wasn't. They played very well together and played off each other. The neat part is that Whittle and Rosenthal played together in New York.
VU: If Chester Taylor can't go because of his rib injury, who gives them a better chance? Ciatrick Fason had a career game, but Mewelde Moore has more experience as a featured back.
BL: The thing it's going to come down to is the mental mistakes, if the back can hit the right spot, pick up the right blocking schemes when he's in there. I like Mewelde Moore. With the money they paid for this line, if they give him more of a seam, I think he's got a chance to bust one. He hits the hole pretty fast. Even though Fason had a breakout game for him, if they had the same type of holes for Moore, I think Mewelde Moore might have gotten you even more yards. That's not a negative against Fason because he played with a lot of heart.
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.
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