Another week, another division rival in prime time. The first place Minnesota Vikings come riding into town, looking to tear down the walls of Soldier Field and pillage the remains of the carcass of the Bears season. Before they get to the gates, we parlay with Daily Norseman writer Ted Glover to discuss the purple and gold. To see the companion piece on the Daily Norseman, click here.
WCG: We're 5 games into the Sam Bradford era (he missed the first game after the trade). He's 4-1 and coming off of his worse game as a Viking against his former squad. Are you comfortable with the compensation General Manager Rick Spielman gave up to acquire him and what are your expectations of Bradford for this year and beyond?
DN: For now, yes I am. We all talk about Super Bowl windows opening for teams, and in this day and age, unless you're the Patriots I guess, that window isn't open indefinitely. This defense is one of the best in the NFL, and is championship caliber. The offense is good enough to win a lot of games, but not necessarily with Shaun Hill. QB is the most important position on offense, and after Teddy Bridgewater went down Spielman had to do something to keep this team's expectations of making a deep playoff run realistic. Getting Bradford sent a message to the team that he believes in them, and to the rest of the league that the Vikings aren't going to waste a year and they're all in. I'm not trying to discount the importance of a first round pick, but if the Vikings are as good as we think they can be, a late first round pick (26 or up, hopefully) for a QB that can get them deep in to the playoffs isn't unreasonable compensation. The Vikings draft class for 2017 still has a second round pick, two thirds, two fourths, and one pick each in rounds five, six, and seven. So I look at single first round pick in one class that still has eight picks pretty much a wash for a starting caliber NFL QB. However, if the Vikings stumble, and as a minimum don't win the division and a playoff game, it's not unfair to call this season a failure. And heaven help the Vikings if Bradford collapses and the Vikings end up missing the playoffs altogether. That would be an unmitigated disaster. I don't think the latter happens, but anything can happen in the NFL.
As for Bradford, keep playing the way he has, minus the Eagles game. Keep making smart decisions, minimize mistakes, and keep the offense moving and scoring points. If he can do that, the Vikings will be fine, and can go a long way in the post season.
WCG: Adrian Peterson is currently recovering on the IR from a surgically repaired meniscus in his knee. Matt Asiata, Jerrick McKinnon, and now Ronnie Hillman are filling in behind him. How much do the Vikings miss Peterson and when can the Vikings reasonably expect him to return to this struggling running game?
DN: That's a really good question, and one I don't have a good answer for. I would assume they'd like him back as soon as possible, but it depends on how quickly he heals. He was reportedly in the locker room with no brace and walking without a limp the day before yesterday, but I don't think that should be taken as a gauge on when he'll return. Will AP help? The offensive line has been a mess, to be sure, but I think Peterson has lost a step, and in a way was hurting the running game. One of AP's trademark moves was his ability to take an inside run, use his lateral speed to get to the edge if nothing was there, beat pursuit to the edge and turn the corner. Even before he got hurt against Green Bay, that lateral speed seemed to be missing, and he was only averaging just over two yards a carry. Until the o-line can figure some things out, I'm not sure it matters who's running the ball, to be honest.
WCG: On the other side of the ball, the Vikings are playing amazing football. Who leads this elite defense and what should Bears fans, who enjoy good defense, watch out for on Monday night? Is there a surprise player that is giving an unexpected boost this year?
DN: The great thing about this defense is that it has playmakers at all three levels, and everyone seems to be playing very well. If you want a leader of this defense, I would have to say DE Everson Griffen, or S Harrison Smith. Those are the guys most people know about, but that's because they've played so well early on. But there are two guys sort of flying under the radar that have made a big impact so far? NT Linval Joseph and S Andrew Sendejo, the 'other' S. Joseph has been pretty good since he came to Minnesota in 2014, but is really the lynchpin to stopping the run for the defense. Sendejo, on the other hand, has kind of been the player fans like to dislike, and was considered by almost everyone as the weak link in an otherwise stout defense. So far this year, though, he's playing very good, disciplined football, and has been, arguably, the most improved player on the team. He was hurt against Philadelphia though, and missed most of the game, but he should be back on Monday Night.
WCG: If you were scripting a game against the Vikings defense, how would you go about attacking this squad?
You have to run the ball, even if you aren't getting six or seven yards at a clip. Three and four yards on first down is okay; it gives you most of your playbook, and allows you to attack the defense with short and medium throws underneath. Getting into obvious passing situations really puts you behind the power curve, so avoiding 2nd or 3rd and long is paramount. I'm going to try and isolate a running back or tight end on LB's Eric Kendricks or Chad Greenway, and I'm using quick dropbacks to help negate a really good pass rush. If I want to use deeper drops, I'm going to keep my tight end in and use him to help on Griffen. When I run the ball, running the dive up the middle into Linval Joseph is kind of dumb, so I'm going to go more off tackle, or attack the edge, and I'm going to pull linemen to get extra blockers at the point of attack, as the Vikings LB's pursue laterally as well as anyone in the NFL.
WCG: At the risk of alienating both readerships, this Vikings team reminds me a bit of the 2006 Bears. A standout defense with superstars (Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris, Mike Brown, Charles Tillman vs. Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes), a talented kick returner who can't make an impact as a receiver (Devin Hester vs. Cordarrelle Patterson), a streaky quarterback (Rex Grossman vs. Sam Bradford), and a good, defensive-minded Head Coach (Lovie Smith vs. Mike Zimmer). That Bears team made it to the Super Bowl. What are the expectations for this Vikings squad in a wide open NFC this season?
The only comparison I would disagree with you on is your description of Patterson, who's actually starting to make an impact as a receiver again, but yes, it was very accurate up until two or three weeks ago. Anyway, expectations for this team are high, even coming off a loss in Philly. There's no team in the NFC, or maybe even the entire NFL, that is head and shoulders above the rest. The Vikings can ride this defense a long way, and as long as the offense plays generally mistake free football like they have for most of the season, they can make a deep run. I'm a battle scarred fan from the Purple People Eater days of the '70's, and with all that heartbreak I'm reluctant to say the 'SB' words, because sports jinxes are so real and if I say it something horrific will happen...but yeah, they can go a long way. For me, as a minimum, I would be disappointed if they didn't win the division at get a home playoff game, and we'll go from there.
BONUS: This game is played on Halloween this year so, as a Vikings fan, have you ever dressed up as Ragnar, the Vikings mascot, and what type of treat do you give a raiding Norseman? Chocolate gold coins? Ham hock?
DN: No I haven't, but I have worn a Helga horned helmet and a Vikings jersey to a Halloween party before. For candy we hand out, we get a big grab bag that has the mini Twix, Snickers, Milky Way, and Nerds in it.
Thank you Ted and the Daily Norseman!