Intel on the Chicago Bears opponents creeps its way onto the blog today, which marks the beginning of a four-day look at the NFC North.
Talking to reporters who regularly cover Chicago’s divisional opponents, we asked each of them to thoroughly break down the teams they cover, providing both strengths and weaknesses.
We kick off the series with the Minnesota Vikings by asking Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for five concerns his team faces this season, in addition to five issues the team shouldn’t have to worry about:
Five things the Vikings need to worry about
1. Brett Favre: We all think it’s 99 percent certain he’s coming back. But until he is officially back, that’s got to be No. 1 on the list. As it is, he’s not gonna be there at the start of camp.
2. Adrian Peterson:It’s been well documented that he’s had problems holding on to the football, and that’s a killer. He skipped mandatory minicamp to be at “Adrian Peterson Day”, and didn’t take part in offseason activities with the team. That’s not a huge deal, but somewhere along the line he needs to address this issue and the fumbling. Teams are targeting the football when he carries it.
3. Finding Chester Taylor’s replacement: Taylor wasn’t a starter, but he is a huge loss. The fact they lost him in the division hurts even more. He played a ton on third down, and took a load off Peterson. Peterson still isn’t great at pass protection. So on third downs in two-minute situations Chester [Taylor] was used a lot. That security blanket is now gone, and it’s definitely a concern.
4. Safeties Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson: Williams, who they paid a lot in free agency, and Johnson, who was in his first year as a starter last season, didn’t exactly perform up to par. They need to take a step up, or the Vikings need to give serious consideration to a guy like Jamarca Sanford. The safeties lacked aggressiveness at times. The game in Chicago, when the Vikings played the Bears, Jay Cutler bowled over Williams, which was definitely embarrassing. The safeties need to take a step forward.
5. Cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield: Griffin tore an ACL in overtime of the NFC Championship game, and Winfield missed six games, and was severely hampered by a broken foot last season. The Vikings signed Lito Sheppard, and my assessment is Griffin might not be ready to start the season. So health of the cornerbacks is a concern. They need at least one of those guys to be ready this season.
Five things not to worry about
1. Jared Allen: He had 14½ sacks last season, which was his second season with the Vikings. He’s had 29 sacks over the past two seasons. Statistically, he’s an elite pass-rushing right end. That’s been huge because the Vikings haven’t had that for so many years. He plays so many snaps and rarely comes out, it's really a luxury to have him because they don’t really have to worry about that position.
2. The availability of DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams: That [Star Caps] case has been tied up for so long, it looks like there’s no way this thing gets to court again until after the season. There shouldn’t be a lot of concern about them missing time. The Vikings don’t have a lot of concern about those two guys being suspended.
3. Sidney Rice: It’s a little bit of a wildcard, but physically, he looked like he made huge strides last season. He had 83 receptions and eight touchdowns. Even if Favre doesn’t return, Rice has pretty much established himself as potentially an elite receiver. Sure, the Vikings have Bernard Berrian. But Rice looks like the team’s top receiver now.
NFC North Breakdown
ESPN Chicago's Bears reporter Michael C. Wright talks to beat reporters from each of the NFC North's teams to get their views on the teams they cover.
4. Ryan Longwell: This isn’t a sexy one, but Longwell has more than proven himself as far as placekicking goes. He’s just incredibly consistent. He made 26 of 28 field goals and 54 of 55 extra points. The Vikings have the luxury of not having to worry about a field-goal kicker, and that’s a nice thing to have. It’s worth mentioning that Longwell is entering the final season of his contract. It’s unclear whether he will be back after this season.
5. Linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber: They are about as steady as it gets. Both have been consistent at their positions, and both are entering what looks to be the last year of their contracts. Greenway has gotten nothing but better as he has progressed. There’s some question about when middle linebacker E.J. Henderson will return from his broken left femur. So the stability of at least having so much consistency on the outside is important.