Hi folks. Most weekdays I’m writing Vikings material at the site I share with Pacifist Viking and TBird – Kick Ass Blog. But today is the start of me posting a regular column at The Vikings Age each week. Hope you enjoy my stuff. If not, blame Zinski. He’s letting me do this.
The blissfully stressless Sunday we enjoyed last weekend is over. So is the Minnesota Vikings bye week. Now the countdown to a Nov. 25 date with the Bears at Soldier Field has begun.
But for the Vikings coaching staff there was no bye or rest last week. Instead, they spent the time eyeballing game film and self-scouting their team, looking for ways, big and small, to improve the club for a tough six-game stretch.
After watching the Vikings evolve over the season’s first 10 games, I think there are four roster decisions the coaches must wrestle with this week. If they make the right call in each case, even the slightest uptick in performance will be a plus for Minnesota – making them a tougher team to beat during this playoff push.
Geoff Schwartz vs. Brandon Fusco
Offensive line is always a tough spot for me to assess, especially when it comes to the subtle stuff these guys do in run blocking. However, the people who get paid to cover the Vikings for a living and watch game tape, like ESPN 1500′s Tom Pelissero, have been highlighting Fusco’s shortcomings in run and pass blocking for weeks. Meanwhile, Schwartz is gradually taking more snaps away from Fusco. Against the Lions, Schwartz played 21 snaps compared to Fusco’s 49.
With the Vikings facing a number of defensive lines and front sevens (Packers and Bears twice, plus the Rams and Texans) that can pressure quarterbacks and stop running games when they are on, it might be time to switch out Fusco for the more experienced and, presumably, steadier Schwartz. The Vikings offensive line needs to be operating at maximum efficiency with the opponents it is about to face. Christian Ponder needs a clean pocket to throw from and Adrian Peterson must have some holes to run though if this offense is going to score enough points to keep the Vikings in these games. Schwartz might be the guy who can help make that happen more than Fusco.
Erin Henderson vs. Jasper Brinkley
Henderson started the year as the Vikings linebacker who took over the middle on obvious passing downs. Then he got a concussion against the Colts in week two and missed the next games – wins against San Francisco and Detroit where Brinkley replaced him as the MLB in the nickel and played well. Brinkley kept that role when Henderson returned against the Titans. But as the year grinds on, Brinkley is proving that pass coverage is not his thing. Henderson seems like the better cover guy, and against the Lions Henderson took way more turns (30) than Brinkley did (17) in the middle linebacker spot in the nickel. Is this the end of Brinkley playing on passing downs? I think it is, and that’s a positive with the Vikings set to play the Packers twice over the next six weeks. I don’t want to see Brinkley covering Jermichael Finley or Randall Cobb down the seam.
Fred Evans vs. Letroy Guion
Before Guion missed the Lions game with a turf toe injury, he was the man in the middle as Tampa Bay and Seattle ran for 257 and 195 yards, respectively, against Minnesota. You can’t blame all of that on Guion, but he got pushed around pretty good by opposing blockers in both games. And he didn’t bring any juice in the pass rush to make up for it. Evans played pretty well in his start against Detroit. He got no pass rush to speak of (and he never will), but he moved blockers backward, got penetration and mucked up some screen plays. The Vikings don’t necessarily need much (or any) pass rush from the nose tackle because pass rushing is what Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen are paid to do. But they do need someone to keep blockers off of Kevin Williams, Brinkley, Henderson and Chad Greenway and anchor the nose tackle on run plays. Evans was able to provide that against the Lions. Leslie Frazier has said Guion will be the starting nose tackle when he’s healthy enough to play again. That doesn’t mean they still can’t give Evans the majority of the snaps.
Jarius Wright vs. Michael Jenkins/Devin Aromashodu/Stephen Burton
I wrote about this last week at my blog, but since Frazier and Bill Musgrave have neither confirmed nor denied that Jarius Wright will play Sunday against Chicago, it’s worth revisiting. I get that Jerome Simpson is going to be given every chance to fail because he’s a tall WR with speed – at least when his back isn’t bothering him. I get that the Vikings like Burton’s blocking (not a piddly skill considering the holes Peterson’s been running through during his hot stretch) and so he’s going to be dressing a lot. But Michael Jenkins can’t run anymore and Devin Aromashodu has barely played lately and is averaging 1.2 catches per game. Wright accomplished more in one quarter against Detroit than Jenkins and Aromashodu have the entire year. Jenkins foot injury might make the Vikings decision here an easy one this week. However, if the team is going to dress five – or even just four – receivers for the remaining games, I see no reason why Wright shouldn’t be one of them. The Vikings lack weapons in the passing game. Jenkins and Aromashodu are not weapons. Wright has at the very least shown that he might be a weapon. That’s enough to convince me he should be dressing the rest of the season.