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The highly tolerable Ted Glover from the Vikings' SBNation blog gives us some insight into the Vikings as they stand this week.
Ted Glover is simultaneously a Vikings fan, an Ohio State Buckeye fan, and a St. Louis Cardinals fan. It seems impossible for me to enjoy talking to the guy, but somehow he's actually pretty awesome despite all of those obvious faults. Ted came to me this week offering a peaceful Q&A session, so naturally, I couldn't pass it up. Let's take a look at what Ted has to say about the state of the Vikings.
APC: Antoine Winfield has been excellent as a slot corner in recent seasons, but as far as I can see, his play has started to tail off a bit this season. Now I see that he's banged up with a variety of injuries. How effective can he be in covering Greg Jennings and/or Randall Cobb in the slot this week?
DN: Actually, Winfield has had one of his better seasons this year. He was never a true shutdown corner, but he's still a solid cover guy and pound for pound is one of the best tacklers in the NFL. As to injuries, the Vikings have been giving him a lot of rest during the week, and this is the first time in a couple seasons he's been healthy for each and every game. His weak point is outside deep coverage in a man to man scheme, but he's still solid in the slot, which is where he slides over to when the Viings go to their nickel package.
APC: Injuries galore! The Packers are finally starting to get healthy, while the Vikings have multiple key players not practicing this week. What is the extent of Adrian Peterson's and Jared Allen's injuries and will they be at full strength (or as close to full strength as a player can be in week 17)?
DN: They're on the injury list simple because the NFL mandates it. Both are as healthy as you could expect going into the last game of the season and will play. Peterson's injury is an abdominal strain, which happened last week against Houston, and they held him out of their last drive. Allen's shoulder isn't serious at all, and Leslie Frazier has been limiting practice time for some of the veterans like Allen and Winfield. It's worked, because they play well on game day. There's hope that DE Brian Robison, who hurt his shoulder two weeks ago and didn't play against Houston, will be ready to go Sunday. But if he isn't, Everson Griffen can ably fill in.
APC: Christian Ponder has looked better since his abysmal game in Lambeau Field a few weeks ago, but do the Vikings really trust him to do anything more than be a game manager? Furthermore, do Vikings fans see him as anything more than that right now?
DN: Right now, when he's on and going through his reads, he is the quintessential game manager--175-200 yards passing, maybe a TD throw, a nice scramble or two to get yards, and no picks. Anything else from him is gravy. He's had a few abysmal games, but he's bounced back and has gotten better, and he's had three good games in a row. Maybe he's finding that consistency that was not there in the beginning of the season, and he generally plays better at home, so I'm expecting a good game from him. But unless and until the Vikings upgrade the wide receivers, I don't see Ponder and the passing game something the Vikings can rely on to win games. Right now, the sole purpose of the passing game is to make enough plays to be respected. That makes the running game with AP devastating, and it opens up play action.
APC: How impressed are you with the play of the rookies this year, specifically Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith?
DN: The Vikings return to contender status started with the 2012 draft. Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith have been phenomenal, as well as Blair Walsh. Third round pick Josh Robinson has been a solid additoon to the secondary, too. Smith and Kalil upgraded two units that were abysmal for the Vikings the last few years, and it's no coincidence that improved play from the offensive line and secondary have turned a 3-13 team into one on the cusp of the playoffs. It will be a crime if Smith doesn't get some votes for defensive rookie of the year, as he is a fierce hitter and playmaker. Tim Ryan, the analyst for Fox who was part of the announcing crew for the Houston game, said Kalil is already considered by a lot of front office personnel and coaches one of the top LT's in the game, and if you watch him, you'll know why. He rarely gets beat either outside or inside, and just mauls guys on running plays. J.J. Watt wreaked havoc on the Vikings last week, but not until he moved around the line and away from Kalil. I'm looking forward to his one on one battles with Clay Matthews--gonna be a great matchup.
APC: Is there any one or two specific things or players that you can point to as being the difference between the 2011 Vikings and the over-.500 2012 version?
DN: Sure, Kalil and Smith, plus this team is a lot healthier now. Last season part of the reason the secondary was so atrocious was because they were racked with injuries back there. This year, Winfield is healthy, Chris Cook is back, and rookie Josh Robinson is a definite upgrade over Asher Allen. Drafting Kalil made two spots on the line better, as last year's LT Charlie Johnson moved to the LG position, and they're now, at worst, a league average line. They're also a lot more consistent team, and are able to close games out. There were half a dozen games last year where they collpased in the second half and pissed away the lead and then the game, but this year they're able to make the big play, for the most part--get off the field on third down, convert a 3rd and 8, sustain a drive and get a score.
APC: Bonus question: what will be your beverage of choice during this Sunday's game? I'll probably be kicking back with a few Moon Man Pale Ales from New Glarus Brewery, in case you're curious. Oh, and I'm curious about your prediction as well.
DN: I'll be drinking Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss and an import variety pack I got as a Christmas gift. As for my Dad, who watches all the games with me, he's still got 5 or 6 Grain Belts left from a case I brought back for him the last time I was in the Homeland. As to the game, I really like the Vikes' chances. They played Green Bay tough at Lambeau, and Ponder had an atrocious game. If he can play the way he usually does the Vikings will win. I think he will. Vikings 24, Packers 21.
Thanks again to Ted for some great insights. You can also check out my responses to Ted's questions over at the Daily Norseman.