Lurtsema's Reaction: A week of changes

The Vikings welcomed back their old starting left tackle, are now without their middle linebacker for the season and are experiencing challenges in the running game. Former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema offers his opinions on E.J. Henderson, Antoine Winfield, Bryant McKinnie, Chris Kluwe and more.

VU: How big of a loss is E.J. Henderson and do you expect that to show up in the run defense?

BL: Absolutely. E.J Henderson was the captain of your defense, called all the plays and was having an unbelievable season. The way the front four was playing, having added Jared Allen in the offseason, that was a fivesome up the middle to deal with. If David Herron doesn't fill in well there, they could be a little more susceptible to the run. But Ben Leber probably could have been NFC Defensive Player of the Week last week just as much as Antoine Winfield was. If they move Leber to the inside, I'll have to see how much he develops, but he played so good last week. They're going to miss E.J. big-time.

VU: Losing Henderson so early in the year would seem to have the potential to be devastating if they let it be that way.

BL: It is. That's like losing your quarterback. That's a little different situation here, where they were replacing a quarterback with a better quarterback. On defense, he's the blood and guts. If you have a Dick Butkus go down or a Brian Urlacher go down, it hurts. They are covering tackle to tackle and they're making the audibles. If you have a good quarterback to call audibles, that's a huge plus for a QB. The younger quarterbacks, even the great ones, they'll play good, but they'll never play great until they can see everything in front of them and grasp it. That's why a veteran linebacker like E.J. and the old-timers that I played against, when they go down it's huge.

VU: What about Winfield? Is there anybody that you can compare him to with his tackling skills, given how small he is in comparison to a lot of the players out on the field?

BL: Nope. I went up to him in the locker room the other day and said, ‘I'm starting to enjoy watching you play.' Smartness is one thing, but the way he attacks and the way he beats the lead blocker on those sweeps and the savvy that he has, even when he's blitzing, he's just spectacular. When he ran back that blocked field goal for a touchdown or when he won the game almost single-handedly against Carolina with that great play, and even last week, when you see it in slow motion when the fumble is occurring – especially against Drew Brees on Monday night – he makes the sack and the ball is a little bit loose. You normally see the ball floating near the waist. You see him make the adjustment and recover the ball when it's just starting to be a fumble. In both situations, his awareness was so fast. Everybody else looks at it and thinks that's natural, but to see it in slow motion, and even on the touchdown return off the blocked field goal, he saw it coming, located the ball and off he went. I think it's junk for the NFL to fine him for excessive celebration. That's the cutest celebration I've ever seen. I'll give him a 10 on that celebration. There is nobody to compare him to. That's God-given talent with a lot of talent.

VU: How did you think Bryant McKinnie did in his first game back?

BL: Very well. Coming back, I thought he played very, very well. With the conditioning factor, I thought he did keep himself in great shape. I thought maybe they would play him a half and we'd see Artis Hicks play for awhile because he played pretty well when he was in there – he had nothing to hang his head down about. Sometimes those sacks numbers can be a little misleading. One of them the quarterback had a different-type set from what he was supposed to have and then the sack goes against Hicks.

VU: Your take with the whole Chris Kluwe situation?

BL: I have to honestly say that's almost an embarrassment for the Vikings organization to bring in four punters with a situation like that when you have one of the top five punters in the league. There was no reason for that whatsoever. They went out and spent six or seven thousand dollars to try out four kickers and there is no way they were ever going to let Kluwe go anyway. He was trying to deliver a message to the team that if you don't do it you will be replaced, but not with one of the best punters in the league. That's ridiculous, and I think a lot of people are looking at it as a move with a slight air of desperation involved.

VU: With Adrian Peterson and the running game, it's been three games in a row now without him getting 100 yards. Is there concern for you or is it just a matter of time?

BL: First of all, they are 2-1 with Gus Frerotte in there. It's hard to rely just strictly on a runner. With a new quarterback in there, they are making some really good adjustments and I believe they are throwing for about 70 yards more per game than what they had with Tarvaris Jackson. Eventually, the opposing team has got to get the message that Gus will go deep. You can't bring eight and nine in the box all the time. You can't block them. If there are that many, Adrian can't get started. There is so much penetration that he has to slow down before he can accelerate again. They've never had a 300-yard passer in the history of Brad Childress being the head coach, and to be successful you've got to have one 300-yard day. Put it all on the film. I'd start off the Detroit game and go deep. I wouldn't worry about losing – you win it with big-time fashion with aggressiveness and let Chicago know that, hey, if you want to play us and overplay Adrian, we'll burn you deep.

Bob Lurtsema registered 57 regular-season sacks and three in the playoffs during his 12-year career as a defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and was the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

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