Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Saints, Part II

The Vikings are facing a disappointing start to the 2008 season, and Matthew Postins of SaintsInsider.com hits on some of the key questions surrounding Minnesota, which is facing a critical juncture in its season. Tim Yotter of VikingUpdate.com provides his insight on what has happened to date.

MP: Bryant McKinnie's suspension ends this week. Can Saints fans expect to see him back in the starting lineup this week? And, if so, how will McKinnie's return impact the Vikings' running game?

TY:
It's looking like McKinnie will make his way back onto the field. Head coach Brad Childress said last week that he wanted to get a look at McKinnie before he made a decision on that, but Monday he said McKinnie looked like he was in shape. My guess is that he won't be on the field full-time, being his first action since the preseason, but he should be able to help a good amount with the Saints' pass rush from the defensive end position. McKinnie has turned into a better run blocker than I thought he could be with his towering height, but the biggest benefit of getting him back in the lineup is that it will mean less chip help from running backs and tight ends. That could help give Gus Frerotte more options in the receiving game or Adrian Peterson another blocker in front of him at the second level.

MP: The Vikings are used to creating turnovers on defense. But last Sunday against Tennessee the Vikings committed four turnovers that led to 21 points. Talk about what caused those turnovers and whether a failure to protect the football is becoming a trend for the Vikings.

TY:
The Vikings entered the game with a positive takeaway/giveaway ratio, but that changed when they gave it up four times. The interception came when it was starting to be desperation time and Gus Frerotte was hit in the end zone while throwing. However, the fumbles were far more disconcerting. Peterson fumbled, his fullback Naufahu Tahi fumbled and the Vikings even botched a snap. It was Peterson's first fumble of the year, so it's hard to get too down on him at this point, but the Vikings are finding new ways to lose every week. Last week it was the turnovers. In the previous weeks it was a lack of offense or penalties that killed drives in the red zone. They'd better hope that turnovers aren't becoming a trend, because this offense isn't productive enough to overcome a minus-3 turnover ratio on a regular basis.

MP: Who is going to be the QB for Minnesota on Monday? Gus Frerotte or Tarvaris Jackson? What can Frerotte do that Jackson cannot?

TY:
Frerotte will be starting again because he has been able to hit on more explosive pass plays and complete a higher percentage of passes than Jackson did in his two starts. Frerotte seems to have a better command of the offense, or at least reading defenses, and his veteran presence is making a difference. The biggest reason of his first loss of the season was the turnovers. Jackson's best chance to start again might come only if Frerotte gets hurt.

MP: Is Brad Childress the next coach to go? There was plenty of speculation last season after the Vikings failed to make the playoffs, and it would appear some see the Vikings as underachievers so far this season. How much does his perceived loyalty to Jackson play into this?

TY:
I think most observers of the team would say that 1-3 is underachieving with the talent on this roster. Owner Zygi Wilf committed more than $60 million in guarantees to free agents this offseason and he expects to win … and win now. They had seven players in the Pro Bowl last season, so that would seem to back the sentiment that this roster has talent, but they weren't getting it done offensively with Jackson at quarterback, and that could be Childress' undoing if they don't rebound quickly and make the playoffs. In my opinion, that will be the measuring stick – if they make the playoffs, Childress will survive. If they don't, he will mostly likely be looking for employment in another NFL city.

MP: What's with the pass defense? It's in the middle of the NFL rankings, which isn't bad, but it pales in comparison to the Vikes' run defense. What are the factors holding the Vikes' pass defense back, and how vulnerable is it to Saints QB Drew Brees?

TY:
The Vikings pass defense has been at the bottom of the rankings for the past two seasons, so middle of the pack is actually a substantial improvement. The issues in the past were both pass rush and coverage. They went out and spent big money and draft picks to acquire Jared Allen in a trade, but to date that hasn't improved the Vikings' sack numbers. In fact, they are down from this point last year. However, the team doesn't appear to blitz as often as they did the previous two years, so that could have something to do with the sack decline as well. It might also contribute to the lack of defensive turnovers this defense became accustomed to ever since Childress hired Mike Tomlin and then Leslie Frazier to employ the Tampa-2 schemes. Right now, it is extremely susceptible to Drew Brees having a big day, even without targets like Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston. Right cornerback Cedric Griffin appears to be getting targeted by opposing offenses, so I would expect more of that from Brees & Co. The more they can spread the Vikings out with multiple receivers, the better off the Saints will be. As for the running game, few teams have a lot of success running the ball on the Vikings, so throwing it often – at least until a lead is built – has been the M.O. to undo Minnesota.


Matthew Postins is the publisher of SaintsInsider.com on the Scout.com network and Tim Yotter is the publisher of VikingUpdate.com.


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