I was pleased to be joined by Christopher Gates, our Minnesota Vikings affiliate, who does a fine job running Daily Norseman, to preview Sunday's game. Enjoy!
Chris: "From the news: "Brett Favre said "it would be foolish to say" that he's on the same page with Bernard Berrian right now."
Even if Berrian plays this Sunday, his contributions could be limited. Considering Favre hasn't had a lot of time to work with any of the Vikings receivers, who aren't really known in the first place, do you expect Favre to succeed against the Browns' secondary this Sunday?"
Gates: "Regardless of who the quarterback is or was going to be in 2009, the success of the Vikings' passing game is going to rely heavily on how well the running game works. That's obviously the case for a lot of NFL teams, but probably more so for Minnesota than for any other team in the NFL. Since Brad Childress got to Minnesota, teams have stuffed eight men in the box to shut down Adrian Peterson and/or Chester Taylor, but we haven't had the QB play to take advantage of it. Say what you will about Favre. . .and, believe me, I have. . .but if the Browns or any other team continues to insist on shoving eight men in the box, Brett Favre will beat them, regardless of who his receivers are. It also helps that the Browns were fairly terrible against the run in 2008, and I don't recall them making a whole lot of changes between last year and this one, even though I may be wrong on that front.
I firmly believe that early on in this one you'll see a lot of #28 and #29 pounding away at the Cleveland defense. If it's successful, that will force the safeties to cheat up and the Vikings' passing game will be successful. And with the injuries that Berrian has been fighting through thus far, I think I can honestly say that right now our best deep threat is TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who showed in the second half of last year that he can really get open down the seams given an opportunity."
Chris: "Right now, many Viking fans don't have any faith in the Browns passing game, and since our running game is fairly weak, they think our offense will be shut down. Let's say that hypothetically, the Browns have an above average passing game and that Braylon Edwards is a Pro Bowl receiver still. How capable would the Vikings secondary be to account for this?"
Gates: "The Browns' best bet against the Vikings from a passing standpoint, in my opinion, is to go to a lot of 3 and 4-wide receiver sets. Minnesota's starting corners are pretty good, with Antoine Winfield making his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and Cedric Griffin really stepping up his game at the end of last season. Madieu Williams has also shown himself to be capable at safety. The weaknesses in the Minnesota secondary may come from Tyrell Johnson, the other starting safety, and Minnesota's nickel and dime CBs. Johnson is more known for being an "in the box" type of safety, and has some big shoes to fill in attempting to replace Darren Sharper in Minnesota's secondary.
As far as the corners are concerned, after the starters we have a rookie in 3rd round pick Asher Allen, a guy that nobody on our site can stand in Benny Sapp, and Karl Paymah, who was largely signed for his special teams prowess. Allen has shown some promise, but I think he's going to start out as the dime guy for now.
If I'm the Vikings, I'm not sure how I play it. Personally, I think their best bet might be to put Cedric Griffin on the bigger, stronger Edwards and let Winfield and his outstanding tackling skills match up against the speedier, shiftier Josh Cribbs. But Winfield is our #1 CB, obviously, so he and Edwards will probably see a lot of each other this Sunday."
Chris: "How good is the Vikings' special teams coverage units?"
Gates: "I think the Vikings have made a concerted effort to improve their special teams in 2009. . .which is good, because in 2008 they pretty much sucked out loud. The coverage units were abysmal last season, and a lot of the Vikings' off-season moves were geared towards improving that. A lot of guys that are going to be used on the coverage units now are going to have a pretty good combination of size and speed, and getting Heath Farwell. . .a guy that was easily our best special teams player for a few years running prior to blowing out his knee last pre-season. . .can only help. Guys like Farwell, 5th round pick Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson (younger brother of E.J.), and 7th round pick Jamarca Sanford who can run and hit and can really get after it are key to a good special teams unit, and the Vikings have a lot more of those guys now than they did a year ago.
As far as the specialists are concerned, Ryan Longwell is about as steady as they come. He's been gold since he came to Minnesota, and was 6/6 last year on field goals of 50 yards or longer, so there are no worries about him. The guy that Viking fans need to worry about, in my opinion, is the punter and resident Guitar Hero god Chris Kluwe. Yes, Kluwe has an absolute cannon for a leg. . .the problem is that he has this incredibly annoying tendency to outkick his coverage and doesn't punt directionally all that well (see last year's Vikings/Saints game were Brad Childress told him to stop kicking the damn ball to Reggie Bush and Kluwe didn't/couldn't do it). This is why Josh Cribbs scares the crap out of me this week. He's the kind of guy that could really take advantage of a miscue by Kluwe. But if Kluwe can add some hang time and/or figure out how to get the ball out of bounds more often, the Vikings' special teams units should be much improved over 2008."
Chris: "Briefly comment on how you expect the game to go."
Gates: "Few teams this year have more to prove and more doubters to silence than the Minnesota Vikings. They finally got the quarterback "they" wanted for the past two seasons. . .and by "they," I mean "Brad Childress". . .and they're one of the more talented teams in the league from top to bottom. The Browns haven't been a particularly good home team. . .something that boggles my mind. . .so that doesn't worry me a great deal. While most of the pre-game hype is going to surround Brett Favre, in the end I think it's just going to end up being too much Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor for Cleveland. I'm going with a final score of 31-16 in favor of the Beloved Purple in this one, and the Vikings getting off to a positive start to their 2009 season."
Once again, I'd like to thank Gates for taking the time to answer this questions.