John Crist: Not many people around the league believed Tarvaris Jackson was the answer under center for the Vikings, but Minnesota head coach Brad Childress backed him publicly and privately at every opportunity. Nevertheless, Gus Frerotte took over in Week 3 after Jackson proved to be downright dreadful. Does Jackson have any future with this team now?
Tim Yotter: It doesn't really look that way right now unless one of two things happens: Either Frerotte gets hurt and Jackson suddenly looks like he did in the preseason, when it appeared he was really starting to get it, or if Frerotte decides to retire shortly after the season and the team can't find another starter on the free-agent market next year. I only see that second scenario playing out if Childress is still head coach, as I think he still believes that Jackson could turn into a starter, but the coach's hand was forced to make a move when the Vikings were 0-2. The problem the Vikings face right now is that good starting quarterbacks just don't get to the free-agent market very often.
Their best hope might be if Frerotte decided to play another year or two and John David Booty shows more awareness than he had in the preseason or if the Vikings select another quarterback early in the 2009 draft. But the whole dynamic could change if Childress isn't with the team next year.
JC: Adrian Peterson is third in the league in rushing, but he hasn't really had a dominating performance yet this season. He's averaging 4.4 yards per carry, which is down significantly from last year's 5.6 clip. I'm guessing the offensive line hasn't been as good. I know left tackle Bryant McKinnie was suspended for four games, but is there more to the story?
TY: The final third of Peterson's rookie year wasn't all that dominating either, but that was mainly explained away as him recovering from a midseason knee injury. However, Peterson and running backs coach Eric Bieniemy watched film and decided that Peterson needed to become more patient. But the fact is the Vikings just aren't going to be able to get those 200-yard enigma games out of Peterson until defenses respect the passing game a little more. That is starting to come together with Frerotte at quarterback, so eventually teams will have to pick their poison. Right now, they are still daring the Vikings to beat them with the passing game because they don't want Peterson to get free for another freakish game. Having eight or nine defenders in the box is simply too many for the Vikings offensive line to handle.
And, yes, there are still some issues on the offensive line, but I don't think there is the personnel in reserve to make a switch and immediate impact there.
JC: Bernard Berrian appears to have picked up the slack after a slow start, delivering back-to-back 100-yard receiving games while scoring a pair of touchdowns. The Vikings gave him a ton of money in free agency to make big plays downfield and keep enemy safeties honest. Have you noticed any changes in the Minnesota passing game since Berrian arrived?
TY: Not a whole lot at the start of the season, but there has been a significant difference the last few weeks. Berrian has had back-to-back 100-yard games and, considering the Vikings hadn't had a 100-yard receiver since early in the 2005 season, that's a significant step for the passing offense. They seem more willing to go downfield with Frerotte at quarterback, who is more accurate on those passes than Jackson was, and Berrian is catching more of them than Troy Williamson did as their previous "deep threat."
Just like Peterson basically saved the offense last year, now that teams are committed to stopping the running game, Berrian's presence has been the thing to keep the Vikings in games this year. His 86-yard touchdown against the Lions wasn't a deep pass, but more of a 10-yard toss on a crossing route in which he slipped the first tackle, picked up one big block and used his speed to outrace the pursuit to the end zone. But Berrian has also been able to pick up some very important pass-interference penalties downfield as well as catching passes down there. He has seven of the Vikings' top 10 most explosive receptions.
JC: As usual, the Vikings are among the league leaders defending the run but still struggle stopping the pass. That being said, the numbers suggest that Minnesota's secondary has played a little better and become a middle-of-the-pack unit. Jared Allen was supposed to help the DBs because of his pass-rushing presence, so how much credit does he deserve?
TY: Allen hasn't been putting up gaudy sack numbers – he has three so far – but there is no question that offenses are approaching the defensive line differently. Allen receives a lot of attention, with teams sliding protection his way and getting running backs and tight ends to help on him. He's still the team leader with 17 quarterback hurries and is giving his signature effort, but those haven't always translated into sacks for him. Against the Lions, Kevin Williams was shocked to be single-teamed and produced four sacks. That's largely a byproduct of the attention Allen is getting.
The secondary still has its issues – teams seem to be targeting Cedric Griffin on the right side of the defense with Antoine Winfield playing so well – but the overall pass defense has improved with the addition of Allen.
JC: Does anybody want to win the NFC North? The Vikings were my favorites, but QB issues derailed them early. The Packers made a smooth transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, but now they're underachieving. The Bears are better than expected, but they can't finish games. The Lions are, well, the Lions. Handicap the division the rest of the way.
TY: I think you did a marvelous job of handicapping it so far. The Vikings were my favorite to win it as well, but their offense has to find a more consistent punch during the second half of the season, and that's especially true when it comes to scoring points. Twelve points against the Lions? Seriously? That's not a playoff-contending effort. I, too, was surprised by how quickly the Packers transitioned from Favre to Rodgers, and ironically it's the running game on both sides of the ball that is causing the Packers to falter a bit. With Roy Williams traded and Jon Kitna on injured reserve, the Lions stand no shot – I know, deep insight – but that's hardly a surprise. So if the Vikings can get out of their own way with fumbles and penalties, I still like their chances in this very average division, but I don't see them being dominant because of their offensive issues.
I like the Bears more now than I did before the season because I didn't think they would make the switch from Rex Grossman to Kyle Orton and because I wasn't sure Matt Forte could be as effective as a rookie as he has been. I don't see Green Bay being able to survive a tougher schedule than the Vikings or Bears the rest of the way, so ultimately the NFC North could come to down to the Vikings and the Bears and which team can be above .500 when the season ends. The series between these two teams could mean much more at the end of the year than I thought back in August.
Be on the lookout Part III of this three-part series on Friday. To go back and read Part I, where John answered five questions from Tim, Click Here.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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