Chris Steuber: Tarvaris Jackson has a broken finger on his throwing hand and there is some doubt about whether he's going to play. Should the Vikings sit him no matter what and start Kelly Holcomb against the Eagles?
Tim Yotter: Jackson looked pretty decent in Wednesday's open practice session to the media, but there seemed to be as much concern about his ability to handle the snap as there was about him being able to pass the ball. Accuracy will be the key, but, quite honestly, accuracy hasn't been his strong suit to date anyway. So, that said, it seems like Holcomb would be the best choice for at least a week to give Jackson's finger time to heal. But they really do need to find out if Jackson is their quarterback of the future or if they need to go for a true-blue starter in free agency or via trade after the season.
CS: How good is Adrian Peterson and what's stopping Brad Childress from making him an every-down back?
TY: Adrian Peterson is extremely good – great, in fact, when it comes to just pure running ability. If he does get the ball more and more as the season progresses, as Childress contended this week, then he has a great chance to end up leading the league in rushing. He is doing that already, even with a time share in the backfield and the Vikings having their bye week. He is just so dangerous once he gets his hands on the ball because he seems to be able to grind out tough 5-yard runs between the tackles and can take any play for a touchdown if he finds a crease. Somehow, someway, he just gets defenders to take bad angles or grabbing air once he gets into space. If they can get conformable with him in picking up blitzes over the next couple of weeks, there is no reason he shouldn't continue to see his time increase.
CS: Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is having a solid season and has collected 51 tackles thus far. What has he meant to the Vikings' impressive run defense?
TY: Henderson has made huge strides in the defense in the last two years. He easily led the team in tackles last year from the weakside linebacker spot – the playmaking position in the Tampa-2 defense – and is continuing his strong play from the middle linebacker spot this year. His strength is that he is a very good run-stopper who has Pat Williams and Kevin Williams in front of him, and they are usually double-teamed. Henderson is very determined to get through the traffic and make tackles, and he probably deserves to work into the conversation for Pro Bowl consideration at the position. He has just continued to improve every year he's been in the league, and the Vikings look good now for having extended his contract last year for another five years.
CS: The Vikings lack a big-play receiver in their offense, although rookie Sidney Rice has shown flashes. How big of a concern is the receiver position for Minnesota?
TY: Next to quarterback, it is the second-biggest concern on the team. Rice looks like he'll be a very solid player for years to come and could be a big red zone contributor with his size and very good body control and hands. Bobby Wade has proved to be a decent slot receiver and a good leader among a young group of guys, but right now the Vikings don't have a true No. 1 receiver and could use one in a big way to help out a young quarterback. Between a lack of separation, dropped passes and inaccurate passes, the passing game has really struggled.
CS: What's Brad Childress' status in Minnesota? Is he on the hot seat, as the Vikings are 2-4, or is ownership on his side and willing to give him time?
TY: I think he's at least got the rest of this season to turn things around, and the ownership would like to see him succeed. They'd rather keep some continuity in the organization, but the Vikings are facing an issue that hits them right in the pocketbook, as they have been close to local TV blackouts for the first time in a decade. Taking over for the accessible Mike Tice, Childress came down hard on the flow of information coming out of the Vikings' headquarters and that – along with a less explosive offense and more losses – has hurt the ticket sales. And, oh yeah, they are also lobbying for public funding for a new stadium. If they continue to show little progress in the offense throughout the rest of the season and end up with no more than the six wins they had last year, it would be difficult for the owners to sell this team to the public for next year.
CS: How will the Vikings defense defend Brian Westbrook?
TY: Indications are that the Vikings will not put a spy on Westbrook, but they will be very cognizant of where he is and where he is motioning. Linebacker Chad Greenway said Westbrook is probably the best all-around running back the Vikings have faced this season, and I'd agree with that assessment. The scary part for the Vikings is the number of receptions Westbrook has and how he is a prime target in the passing game. The defense has had enough trouble defending a team with average receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks, but if they have to worry about a very solid running back going out in routes beyond the line of scrimmage as well, they will have their hands full.
CS: The Eagles receivers have been inconsistent thus far, and the Vikings secondary has struggled. What's the focus of the Vikings secondary this weekend?
TY: One of the reasons the Vikings secondary looks so bad on the stat sheet is that most teams throw the ball early and often against them, raising the total yardage they give up, which is how defenses are ranked. The two main focuses for this defense every week are limiting the explosive plays and creating turnovers. They have been pretty average at the first and very good at the second. Up until the Chicago Bears made a fourth-quarter comeback with two long passing touchdowns on the Vikings, they had been able to keep most the completions in front of the defenders and then count on solid tackling to limit the gains. If they do that, then they have more opportunities for turnovers as the game progresses, and they have converted those turnovers into four defensive touchdowns already this year. The key will be getting enough pressure on Donovan McNabb. Before last Sunday, when the Vikings had three sacks of Tony Romo, they had gone three straight games with only one sack in each of them.
CS: Is there a player on the Vikings roster that doesn't get a lot of credit and somebody the Eagles should be aware of?
TY: Offensively, that player might be rookie receiver Sidney Rice, but that depends on the quarterback getting enough time and the Vikings making an effort to get it to him. Rice is tied for the league lead in third-down receptions (seven) among rookie receivers and is their only legitimate jump-ball receiver who can get after it in the red zone. If it comes to crunch time and they don't go to Peterson, Rice is the best option in the passing game in tight quarters.
CS: After this Sunday's game with the Eagles, the Vikings have two tough games against San Diego and at Lambeau Field to face the Packers. How crucial is this game for Minnesota?
TY: With a 2-4 record, the Vikings have still outscored their opponents this year, solid evidence that they have been in every game this season. Their stout run defense and aggressive pass defense, along with a very good running game, have allowed them to do that. However, they haven't learned how to close games, so the focus is more on themselves than any other opponent. They can limit a running game like the Chargers can present, especially with an advantage of being at home, but it is always going to be about performance against the pass. Their game this weekend is critical for their own self-confidence in the offense. Everyone on the team needs to see that they can score points at even an average clip. If they fail again, there is the feeling that this team is close to starting the blame game – if not publicly then privately pointing fingers.
CS: What do the Vikings have to do on Sunday to get a win, and what's your prediction?
TY: Trying to limit Westbrook will be their first key defensively, in running and receiving, and then seeing if they can force some turnovers by McNabb. The defense usually does give up decent yardage between the 20-yard lines, but they have been pretty solid in the red zone, where the Eagles have struggled offensively. So if they can continue that trend and get some explosive plays, between Peterson making defenders miss and hitting one or two deep passes, they should be able to win at home. But they have to become much better at extending drives on offense than they have been with their recent history. My prediction is that the Vikings will be able to get an early lead and do just enough to have that lead by the end of the game. They can't win a shootout, but I don't think Philadelphia can get them into that situation.
Chris Steuber is the editor of WarNest.com and Tim Yotter is the publisher of VikingUpdate.com.
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