Sunday, January 24, 2010

On The Ground: Breaking down the Vikings with Dan Zinski

To get some material for the Vikings section of this preview of today's NFC championship game, I spoke with Dan Zinski. Dan does a great job of covering the team for Fansided's The Viking Age. My questions and his responses are below.

Andrew Bucholtz: At the start of the year, did you think the Vikings would be in the NFC championship game? How about at the start of the playoffs?

Dan Zinski: I'm not embarrassed to admit I thought the Favre experiment would be a flop. I figured he'd stink or his arm would drop off and we'd limp to the finish with Tarvaris Jackson as our quarterback, and not even make the playoffs. Once we made the playoffs, however, I thought we had a good shot to beat whoever we faced in the divisional round, just because we've been so dominant at home. I was surprised we crushed Dallas as bad as we did but I wasn't surprised that we beat them.

A.B.: Adrian Peterson seems to be getting less attention these days, as much of it's focused on Brett Favre. Do you think Peterson is being overlooked, or is he really a complementary player to Favre now instead of the focus of the offence?

D.Z.: There's no doubt that the Vikings have gone away from having Peterson as the centerpiece of the offense, but it's out of necessity, because for whatever reason he just isn't the same runner he was in past years. I think the fumbling has gotten in his head and I think, frankly, our run blocking hasn't been as strong as in past years thanks to turnover in personnel and Steve Hutchinson fighting a back injury (a fact that seldom gets brought up by the national media folks). And, frankly, the way Favre and the receivers have played most of the year, it just makes sense to throw the ball more, so Peterson ends up being a guy you pound in there to keep them honest, and use when you get close to the goalline. Actually, I think Chester Taylor is probably a better back for the way this team plays now; he's a better receiver and a better blocker. The advantage Peterson gives you is, teams still commit the extra guy to stop the run which leaves tons of one-on-one coverage. Sidney Rice almost never sees double-coverage, which is a big reason why he's having a huge year. Plus, seems to me tacklers have been making an extra effort to go low on Peterson and tackle him around the ankles. He needs to make some adjustments in the off-season I believe.

A.B.: Both Favre and Drew Brees have had very solid years. Which one would you rather have on Sunday?

D.Z.: Favre, cause he has that old #4 magic. Yes, I've drunk the Kool Aid. Plus Brees is a Purdue guy and I hate all non-Badger Big 10 players. And that thing on his face annoys me.

A.B.: Are there any matchups the Vikings can take advantage of against the Saints? Are there any matchups Minnesota should be worried about?

D.Z.: The matchup I like right now is Sidney Rice against whoever is covering him, because I don't think anyone can cover him. I think he is a nightmare for DBs because he can jump, and because he has that great Randy Moss-like talent for keeping his hands down so the corner/safety doesn't even know the ball is coming. The only Moss attribute he lacks is flat-out speed, but it doesn't seem to matter, because even when the DB is all over him, he makes the catch. His great advantage over Moss is that he tries on every play even if he doesn't get the ball thrown to him. The matchup that worries me is Will Smith vs. Bryant McKinnie because Smith is a good pass rusher and good pass rushers tend to become great pass rushers when they go up against the most undeserving Pro Bowler in the history of football.

A.B.: Finally, who do you think will win this weekend? Why?

D.Z.: Much as it pains me to say, I think the Saints will win. Our pass rush will not be as fearsome as it was last week, and Drew Brees will have time to make monkeys of our mediocre defensive backs. The crowd noise will mess up our offense same as it did to the Cardinals last week and Favre will get sacked a bunch and probably picked off by his old buddy Darren Sharper at least once. The Saints will win it going away, Favre will tearfully retire about a week from now, and then, in a couple of months, force the Vikings to cut him so he can sign with the Cowboys and become quarterback/head coach.

Thanks to Dan for taking the time to talk to me! Be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his work at The Viking Age

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