Hartman: Vikings victories change Billick's mind

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2012 - 10:32 PM

Brian Billick saw the team lose to the Colts and wasn't impressed. Two games since have altered his viewpoint.

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Percy Harvin rested on the bench after he returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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When I am looking for an accurate scouting report on an NFL team, I know of nobody better to go to than Brian Billick, who as the offensive coordinator for the Vikings was responsible for game plans that produced league-leading offense and who coached the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory.

Billick did the color on the telecast of the Vikings' Week 2 loss to the Colts and wasn't too impressed with the Vikings. But after watching them beat the 49ers 24-13 last week and the Lions 20-13 this week, Billick believes the Vikings can play with any team in the league.

"You can't dismiss the Viking win against San Francisco," he said. "Look what San Francisco did on the road against [the] New York [Jets], so that validates even more how good the Vikings are.

"Then going on the road in the division, that's hard to do, to win the way they did against Detroit. I think these last two weeks should remove anybody's doubt that the Vikings are for real. They aren't there yet; they obviously have some tough games. But I think the schedule plays out well for them, and they've proven they're for real these last two games."

Billick added: "I think they can certainly compete in the division, and they have some nice separation now with what Green Bay is doing. They're as solid a team as I've seen. Yeah, it's hard to explain looking back on that Colt game. That's just a totally different team from the one that beat San Francisco and this one."

Billick said the Vikings played much more physically against the Lions than they did against the Colts.

"I don't know how to explain what happened in Indianapolis, but when you look at the San Francisco game and this game, the offensive line just mauled the Detroit Lions defensive line. And the defensive line was getting home and stopping the Lions with just a four-man rush, which allows them to stay in that shell defense they like to stay in. They're playing the formula beautifully."

Billick felt that the Lions did a pretty good job of blocking defensive end Jared Allen but that even so Allen clearly impacted the game.

"I think the whole front four of the Vikings impressed me because the Lions just couldn't do anything," he said. "The front four was able to control the line both in the running game and passing."

Billick paid tribute to the Vikings defense by pointing out that a week ago against the Titans, the Lions rang up 141 rushing yards and 442 passing for a total of 583 yards while the Vikings held them to 341 yards -- 55 yards rushing and 286 passing.

Of that total, 126 of the passing yards came in the fourth quarter, when the Vikings were playing a very loose defense to stop the long touchdown pass.

And Lions running back Mikel Leshoure, who rushed 26 times for 100 yards against the Titans last week, had only 13 carries for 26 yards, and 14 of the yards came on one carry.

The great Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson was held to five catches for 54 yards after catching 10 for 164 and one touchdown last week against the Titans.

Harvin stands out

Billick described Percy Harvin, who returned a kickoff 105 yards, rushed three times for 12 yards and caught six passes for 22 yards, as the best all-around offensive player in the league and one he would select to start a franchise.

"He just does so many different things," he said. "There are receivers that you can put in the backfield occasionally, maybe give them a reverse or something. There's guys that come out of the backfield that are OK in the slot. But I don't know that there's another player in the league that can legitimately start at tailback, in the slot or at wide receiver."

In describing Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed 21 times for 102 yards and caught four passes for 20 yards, Billick said: "He looks like the Peterson of old, which is astounding given the injury that he had, and it wasn't the big, big runs. That was hard grinding for him, and he had a good day."

Billick talked about how quarterback Christian Ponder, who completed 16 of 26 passes for 111 yards, controlled the game. He said Ponder has improved since the season opener and will get even better with experience.

"He had to make the throws he needed to make; they didn't really need much," Billick said. "The two special teams touchdowns were huge, so he played to that strength. He didn't push it, didn't turn the ball over.

"Right now he's managing the game well for a young guy, but he shows that he can make those plays that he needs to make."

And Billick felt that the addition of Jerome Simpson, who was playing his first game after a league suspension, will be a big plus for th Vikings.

"That late catch [Simpson's 27-yard reception with 2:53 left in the game] changed the whole dynamic of the game," he said. "Detroit was going to get the ball with almost two minutes left had they not converted on third down. That was a big play. I think he can help a lot. He's a gifted athlete. I saw him in Cincinnati several times. He's just got to be disciplined and learn to play within that system, but he has the athletic skills to go up and get a jump ball or run by a defense.

"To add another weapon to go along with Peterson and [Toby] Gerhart and Percy Harvin and [Kyle] Rudolph is huge."

Change on Twins staff

The bulk of the Twins coaching staff has been together since Ron Gardenhire became manager in 2002, but General Manager Terry Ryan talked like there may be a change or two in the staff before the 2013 season starts.

"I've got to make that decision in the next week, and that will be my call with the input from Gardy," Ryan said. "I'll have to make sure I get clearance from [President] Dave St. Peter and [owner] Jim Pohlad. There will be some tough decisions that will have to be made here shortly after the season concludes so people can get organized. If we make a change, I want to make sure that everybody has ample opportunity to make a change, if that is in the cards. So I have decisions to make here in the next week."

Ryan also hinted that, among many expected changes on the ballclub for next year, infielder Alexi Casilla, who is eligible for arbitration, may not be back. "We see there are flashes where he should be a guy and there are flashes where it's disappointing," Ryan said. "We'll make a decision on him as we go forward. His dollars are questionable on where he's going to go financially, but he's starting to get expensive. You start to wonder whether or not you're going to reach out to him on what you're getting in return for what he is going to make."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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