A win over the Minnesota Vikings (3-5) this Sunday will not only put the Chicago Bears (5-3) in good position to win the NFC North but it would end any hopes of a midseason turnaround for Brett Favre and the Vikings. For an insiders prospective on the Bears’ next opponent, we play “5 questions” with Vikings Examiner Joe Oberle.
1. With Brett Favre’s ailing body and the lack of reliable depth behind running back Adrian Peterson (Toby Gerhart, Albert Young), what are some things offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell can do to keep Peterson fresh for the remainder of the season?
Joe Oberle:This past weekend Adrian Peterson ran the ball only 15 times (but still rushed for 89 yards) and people have complained that the Vikings should have used him more. He was running well, but the occasional game like that is going to be needed to keep him fresh throughout the season. AP is having a great year, but he wore down last season and could use some breaks this year. Gerhart is getting better, but he needs to pick it more as the Vikings will look to not overwork Peterson in the second half.
As for Favre’s body, it doesn’t really seem to matter how beat up he is (broken ankle and foot, elbow tendonitis, lacerated chin), he will be in the game throwing passes. Favre amazingly has gotten better as the season has gone on and injuries have increased. The Vikings only need to keep Julius Peppers and others like him off of Favre, and the QB will be out there taking pressure off of Peterson.
2. Sidney Rice is expected back from his hip injury soon. Can Vikings fans and fantasy owners expect an immediate impact upon his return?
JO: Rice is back on the practice field and head coach Brad Childress says he is close to returning (saying Wednesday he is cleared to play). No one knows if the Vikings are playing possum with Rice and that he will indeed be playing on Sunday at Soldier Field. If he is playing, I would think they bring him back slowly. He is still recovering from hip surgery and is not in game shape yet. It is still not known how he will respond to game speed and taking an NFL hit. If he can run some deep patterns and stretch the field, even attract some double coverage, he will have some value to the team. As a fantasy player, however, it will take a couple weeks for him to get back into it and for his quarterback to trust him like he did last season. That will come, though, Favre and Rice had great chemistry last season. And Sidney Rice always runs hard.
3. The Vikings are 0-4 on the road this season (0-8 overall), why the struggles away from Mall of America field and will they notch their first win on the road versus the Bears this Sunday?
JO: The reason for the struggles on the road is the $64,000 question. If I knew the answer, perhaps the Vikings organization would make a spot available for me on their coaching staff. Some people point to Favre’s age and playing in bad weather, playing on grass as opposed to turf, playing in front of a hostile crowd, etc., etc. Is there some process within the team’s traveling structure that doesn’t work well? Who knows–but I think those are all excuses for not focusing and beating teams that you should on the road.
The Vikings went through a spate of road losses back in the Denny Green/Mike Tice days and they didn’t have an answer for it. Eventually these streaks end, and this weekend would be a very good time for the Vikings to end this one. I’m thinking the Vikings know the season is on the line and will come with enough to get this game.
4. Why does it seem like head coach Brad Childress is always fighting with his players? Will Childress be coaching the Vikings in 2011?
JO: Brad Childress runs a tight ship. Owner Zygi Wilf brought him in to clean up the mess that preceded his ownership in Minnesota, and Childress has done a great job of acquiring players with talent and character. That said, things have not always run smoothly with his management style. Childress and Favre are both confident in their knowledge of the offense being run, and they don’t always agree on how to do so. Acquiring Randy Moss was mistake from the get-go–thinking he would mesh with Childress’ coaching style was a reach at best. Players on the team looked up to these two star players, and since one is gone and the other is at occasional odds with the coach, it is not hard to see where the players will line up.
Add to that, Childress’ penchant for unsympathetically handling players’ issues (waiving Marcus Robinson on Christmas Eve, threatening to fine Troy Williamson for missing too much time at his grandmother’s funeral and the end around the front office when cutting Moss), and you aren’t going to win too many popularity contests in the locker room. Rumors persist that he has lost the locker room, but then as Favre says they don’t have to agree on everything. It is touch and go the rest of the season with Childress, and it would seem that only a very good ending to this season can save his job. If they make the playoffs and make another deep run, he has a chance. If they miss the postseason, I think he will be gone.
5. At 3-5 with eight games remaining, why will the Vikings make a run to the NFC playoffs? What are some reasons they may fall short?
JO: They will make a run because their quarterback is starting to play better, some of their injured players are coming back, the schedule becomes easier and no one is running away with the conference, much less the division. The reasons they could fall short is that after stumbling themselves, the Bears and Packers are winning again and are probably hitting their stride, as well. In addition, the Vikings may have waited too long to mount their comeback. When they wait until four-and-a-half minutes remaining in their season, essentially, to come back against a mediocre Arizona Cardinals team, it doesn’t instill much confidence. You have to play well in this league and be lucky when you need it, and so far the Vikings have done neither. If things start to go their way, they have a chance, but they are on week-to-week life support for the rest of the season–they don’t have any wiggle room remaining for less-than-very good play. As Favre says, they are in it until they are out of it, so you have to believe they will get it done.