Well, I managed to squeeze in enough time to get 5 questions answered by Gonzo over at Daily Norseman, SB Nation's Vikings blog. The Vikings have definitely beenone of the surprises of the league, thanks in large part to Adrian Peterson. While I had him answer a question related to Adrian Peterson, I tried to get him to discuss things aside from AP. We all know how good Purple Jesus is, so I figured it'd be more useful to hear about all other things Viking-related...and of course get his thoughts on the Peterson-Willis matchup.
NN: Alright, we know Adrian Peterson is the greatest thing since whatever cliche you want to use. The more important question is whether you think Tavaris Jackson is the answer at QB or if you can even tell given some of the weapons he has (excluding Sidney Rice from the equation).
DN: Jackson's actually coming off of his best game as a pro. Against Detroit, he went 18/24 for 204 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. Now, while you might be tempted to say "Yeah, but it was the Lions," the first time he faced the Lions this season he threw 4 INTs and looked as bad as a Vikings' QB has looked since the immortal Spergon Wynn ran the show at the end of '01. At this stage of his career and in this offense, Jackson just has to be a "don't screw it up" type of quarterback. As long as he doesn't forget how to hand the ball of to Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, the Vikings aren't going to need him to throw for 300 yards and 3 scores to win football games.
The guy has all the physical talent in the world, and you can see that in some of the throws he makes. Over the course of the last few games, it looks like things have started to "slow down" for him. He's also starting to tuck the ball under and run when he has the opportunity to do so, something that he seemed reluctant to do early in the season. All in all, I'm much more confident about Jackson being a long-term solution at quarterback now than I was early on this season.
NN: Besides AP and Sidney Rice, do you have a rookie or general up and coming player 49ers fans should pay attention to?
DN: Well, with Ray Edwards being suspended for the last four games of the regular season for breaking the steroid rules, we're going to see a lot more of #96, Brian Robison, our fourth-round pick in this year's draft out of the University of Texas. Going into this weekend, Robison is tied with Tampa Bay's Gaines Adams for second among rookies in sacks with 4.5 (half a sack behind Houston's Amobi Okoye). He's proven to be a very good rusher off of the edge, but now is going to have to prove himself in some non-passing situations, too.
On the offensive side, keep an eye on the "other" rookie receiver for the Vikings, Aundrae Allison, our fifth-round selection out of East Carolina. During the pre-season, he made the bold move of changing his number from #14 to #84 (Randy Moss' old number), and last weekend set a Vikings' record with a 103-yard kick return for a touchdown, which helped him to be named the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 12. He also added in a nice 35-yard catch and run, but his main value is as a kick returner with Troy Williamson being injured. He's only gotten 10 returns thus far this year, but has made the most of them, averaging 37.1 yards a return and tying a team record with three returns of 60 yards or more.
NN: I'd expect the 49ers to stack the box against Peterson in hopes of forcing Jackson (assuming he's at the helm) to beat them through the air. Are Vikings fans worried about that, or will AP still eat up the 49ers defense?
DN: The thing with stacking the box with 8 guys against a back like Peterson is that your guys had better be able to tackle. . .because if AP makes a man miss and gets past that first level, you don't have anybody back there that's going to stop him or catch him. What makes what the Vikings' rushing attack has been doing this season even more amazing is that, up until the last three weeks, there has been absolutely zero passing threat. In Peterson's first 200+ yard game against Chicago, Tarvaris Jackson only competed 9 of 23 pass attempts for 136 yards, and nearly half of the yardage came on one 60-yard TD pass to Troy Williamson. In the game where he set the single-game rushing record against the Chargers, Jackson and Brooks Bollinger were a combined 13/22 for 158 yards. Everyone in the building knows that the Vikings have to run the ball to be successful, and the Vikings are running the football anyway.
I'm actually quite interested in the Adrian Peterson/Patrick Willis matchup on Sunday for this reason. I haven't seen as much of Willis as I'd like this season, but he doesn't appear to miss very many tackles. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings' offensive line can keep Willis away from Peterson and Chester Taylor. If they can, the Vikings should be in for another big rushing day.
NN: You're probably sensing a theme here, but aside from Adrian Peterson, why do you think the Vikings are 6-6 and right in the thick of the wild card chase?
DN: You have to look at the play of the defense. Yes, they're still #32 in the league against the pass in terms of yardage, but I've never been a big fan of measuring a pass defense strictly on the basis of yards allowed. Last week the Vikings gave up 270 yards to Jon Kitna. . .and beat the Lions by 32 points. The week before, they gave up 280 or so to Eli Manning. . .and beat the Giants by 24. New Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier has really started bringing a lot more pressure over the course of the last few weeks, and that's led to a lot more turnovers, a lot more stops, and a lot fewer points allowed. The run defense is going to be there for the Vikings as long as the law firm of Williams, Williams, and Henderson is patrolling the middle of the field for us, but the improvement in the pass defense over the last couple of weeks has been a huge catalyst for the recent surge.
NN: What can the 49ers offense expect from the Vikings defense both against the pass and the run?
DN: Offensively, the Vikings are going to do what they've done all year. They're going to pound the run and pound the run until the Niners show that they can stop it, try to set up the play-action passing game for Tarvaris Jackson, and wear down the Niners defense with long, time-consuming drives. That will also keep the Vikings' defense fresh, which will be a big part of things on Sunday.
Defensively, I think we're going to see a lot of what we've seen the last couple of games. The Vikings will try to dial up the pressure on Trent Dilfer, try to force some turnovers, and try to ensure they can get off the field on third down. They'll try to minimize Frank Gore, which will hopefully put the Niners in a lot of second and third-and-long situations, which will allow the Vikings defense to blitz more frequently.
Thanks again to Gonzo for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure and check out Daily Norseman this weekend as I'll be answers a few of his questions.