Each week we try to get inside the heads of the opposite side. This week I talked with Dan Zinski, who is the lead editor at The Viking Age. (The Viking Age is Fanside.com’s blog that covers the Minnesota Vikings.) Like a Greek coming to Troy, Dan was very forthcoming and we had a cojol conversation where he shared the information with me below. Come Sunday we’ll find out if Zinski was a polite visitor with his Vikings, or if they brought a Trojan Horse with him.
With Jared Allen’s plays per game cut this year, have you seen a difference in his production while on the field?
DZ: That was a big storyline in preseason, that the Vikes would rotate their defensive linemen more and Allen would have to sit out at times. But the fact is that plan hasn’t really materialized as expected. They’ve shuffled their interior guys a little bit to get Everson Griffen some snaps in pass rush situations but that’s mostly been it. Allen has been on the field almost the whole time. His production is really not that far off from past years. It’s just that, when you get 22 sacks in a season, the expectations get completely out-of-whack. He’s got 3 sacks in 5 games this year and people say “Oh he’s having a bad year.” But he’s not. He’s having a good year.
Each week I continually praise Ponder’s performance. Why has he made such huge strides this year?
DZ: A couple things. One, he’s bought into the conservative offensive gameplan. He’s out there making smart reads. He’s taking checkdowns when no one is open (which is most of the time). He’s hitting the short stuff with a high level of accuracy. He’s not making big mistakes. He’s just playing more under control and with more confidence. It boils down to that. The biggest thing for the offense overall has been the way Bill Musgrave is using Percy Harvin. Ponder’s success is tied in with Harvin, who makes easy short passes into big gains. So Ponder isn’t being put into situations where he has to force the ball downfield. The whole offense is just working better and Ponder looks better within it.
What has been the biggest difference on defense this year? Last year one of the worst in the league, and this year a top 7 defense so far.
DZ: I think new defensive coordinator Alan Williams has done a terrific job. He seems to understand coverages. Last year’s DC Fred Pagac was just not good in that department. Williams has also shown a lot of flexibility when it comes to scheme. The d-linemen complained that there was too much cuteness in the calls so Williams simplified and let them go at it. They’ve played better since then. Also, the Vikes cleared out a lot of players who just were not physically capable of doing what they were being asked. Cedric Griffin, E.J. Henderson, Tyrell Johnson and Remi Ayodele all started last year and all were deadweight. They brought in two really good DBs through the draft, Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson. And Williams has coached up Jasper Brinkley and Letroy Guion. They’re playing terrific team defense right now. And they’re being very physical. Harrison Smith is just menacing people right now.
Most people predicted the Packers, Bears, and Lions to fight it out to first in the NFC North. However, as of right now, the Vikings are sitting atop the division. What didn’t most pundits see, and still don’t see since most people still aren’t really taking Minnesota seriously to win the North?
DZ: No one saw the Packers and Lions struggling the way they have. I think that’s the first thing. As for the Vikings, three factors have been key. The improvement of the defense, obviously. No one predicted they would get this much better this fast. Two, the improved play of Christian Ponder. And three, Percy Harvin going from being a really talented, entertaining player to an MVP candidate. The front office and coaches deserve a lot of kudos. They reworked this roster and remade the team’s whole identity in short order.
What are two bold predictions you have for Sunday’s game?
DZ: Vikings pick off RG3 3 times. Adrian Peterson will have 3 touchdowns.