We take a break from fretting about our defensive tackles to ask 5 questions of our friend Gonzo. Gonzo is the head writer over at SB Nation's Vikings blog, Daily Norseman:
BBS: It seems like this is looking like a must win game for both teams, and it is only Week Two. You think so?
Gonzo: I'm hesitant to say that there's such a thing as a "must-win" game in Week 2 of a 16-game season. While an 0-2 start is definitely something that's hard to overcome, it's not impossible. In the not-so-distant past, we've seen teams start out 0-4 and rally to reach the post-season. However, while a number of Vikings fans thought they might be 0-1 heading into this week's game, I can't imagine that a lot of Colts fans had the same thought process after the starts that Indy has gotten off to over the past few years. But I don't think it's a "must-win" at this point. The road will be easier for whoever does win, to be certain, but whichever team loses this game isn't dead by any means yet.
BBS: The Vikings really hitched their wagon to QB Tarvaris Jackson and he did not seem to play great against the Packers in Week One. Are you and other Vikings fans concerned?
Gonzo: Yeah, Jackson played a pretty ugly game on Monday. . .but in his defense, the Vikings were down to their third-string left tackle (a guy who had NO game experience at the position), Jackson hadn't played since the second pre-season game in Baltimore, he played a downright awful first half, and he still had the Vikings in a position to win the ball game with under two minutes to go on the road against a team that hosted the NFC Championship Game in 2007. Would I like to see better play from the quarterback position? Obviously. . .I think we all would. I think that if Brad Childress opens up the playbook and lets Jackson do a few things, he'll be just fine. Jackson's probably never going to set the world on fire as an NFL QB, but he won't always be as bad as he was in the opener.
BBS: Adrian Peterson is probably the best RB in football right now. What did he do over the off-season to get better?
Gonzo: Well, everything that came out of Minneapolis during the off-season was about Peterson working harder to become a better blocker and a better receiver out of the backfield. The substitution pattern of our running backs was one of the biggest problems with Minnesota's offense last year. When the Vikings wanted to throw the ball or they were in an obvious passing situation, Chester Taylor would come into the game more often than not, because he's a better receiver and was much better at picking up blitzes last season than Peterson was. Now that #28 has gotten a better handle on how to do those two crucial things, it allows the Vikings' offense to be a little less easy to predict. Other than that, he's learned patience. In an interview just before the season started, he took responsibility for his poor performances toward the end of the 2007 season, and said that it was because he was trying to make every play into a big play rather than just being patient. It's scary to think that he was as good as he was last year, and he might not have "gotten it" to the extent that it looked like he did at times. I have every reason to think that, if he stays healthy, he'll surpass everything he did in 2007 by a significant margin.
BBS: Is the offense feeling the effects of all their o-line troubles, in particular the 4 game suspension of Bryant McKinnie.
Gonzo: The McKinnie suspension is a part of the reason that I don't think the Vikings are dead in the water, even if they start out 0-2. Yeah, McKinnie has his shortcomings, but he's still a upper-eschelon left tackle, and he's sure as heck better than Artis Hicks or Marcus Johnson at the position. As far as the rest of the offensive line, I really don't think there are a whole lot of problems. Ryan Cook is still going through the process of learning to play right tackle, but he actually played a pretty solid game in the opener. Anthony Herrera is decent enough at right guard, Matt Birk is still one of the best in the league at the center spot, and I'll put Steve Hutchinson up against any lineman at any position for the title of best offensive lineman in the NFL. I think that the line play will be alright without McKinnie, but when he returns, the Vikings will go back to being one of the best offensive lines in football again.
BBS: And finally, what to the Vikes need to do to win?
Gonzo: In order to win, the Vikings need to take advantage of the Colts' weak spots. From what I saw in their game against the Bears, the middle of both of Indy's lines appear to be a bit weakened at this point, particularly the defensive line with the release of DT Ed Johnson after his arrest. With Jeff Saturday out or operating at less than full capacity, the middle of the offensive line doesn't look to be what we usually see from the Colts, either. Both of those things play right into where the Vikings are strongest, and they need to exploit those advantages on Sunday. Offensively, they need to get Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor going in an effort to shorten the game and keep the Colts off the field. Defensively, they need to get off the field on third downs, and get significantly more pressure on Peyton Manning than they did against Aaron Rodgers. Manning may or may not still be a little rusty, but that wouldn't be something I'd be willing to stake my chances on. But if the Vikings can do what they do best offensively and get off the field on third down, they stand a much better chance of winning this game than pretty much everyone. . .myself included. . .gave them a couple of months ago.
Big thanks to Gonzo for taking the time to chit-chat. Please check out his ruminations on the Vikings at Daily Norseman.