Time to break out a new feature here at VikesCentric – we'll call it the Friday 3-and-out. Sure, that name has a negative connotation for the offense, but let's look at the glass as half-full and think about the 3-and-outs forced by the Vikings defense this year. Three quick plays and the opponents are back on the bench. In the same spirit, the Friday 3-and-out will offer three quick-hitting opinions about the state of the Purple, then get you on your way to your weekend preparations for the big game.
1. Jasper Brinkley has been the Vikings MSP. That's Most Surprising Player, for if not for Brinkley's seemingly out-of-nowhere performance this year, 3-1 could easily be 1-3, if not worse. Brinkley's previous moment in the sun came in his rookie season, when he stepped into the starting lineup in place of the injured E.J. Henderson late in the magical 2009 Favreapalooza and didn't embarrass himself too much. He returned to the anonymous world of special teams in 2010, then sat out all of last year with a hip injury. But he's filled the Vikings' middle linebacker spot admirably this year, even taking over nickel duties when that other Henderson kid sat out with a concussion the last two weeks. He's never been the most athletic guy on the field, but he's been able to get deep enough to disrupt the passing game in the Cover-2 (something Erin Henderson failed to do on that TD pass to Reggie Wayne in Week 2) and posted a career-high 10 tackles last week in the win at Detroit. That's about as much as the Vikings could have hoped for out of a fifth-round draft choice in his fourth year as a pro.
2. The Vikings didn't necessarily catch a break with Jake Locker sitting out Sunday. Yeah, he's the Titans' starting quarterback, but that's mainly because the Titans know they're not going anywhere this year so they might as well build for the future and see what they've got in Locker. Instead, the Vikings will face Matt Hasselbeck, a savvy veteran who will be a test for a young secondary that hasn't faced a quarterback more experienced than Alex Smith yet this year. One of Locker's strengths is his ability to keep defenses on their toes by running the ball, but it's not like the Titans were going to game-plan much in the way of a ground game against the Vikings' stout rush defense. Their best hope to win is to protect the quarterback, let him sit in the pocket and try to pick apart Chris Cook and Josh Robinson on the outside. That's not Locker's strength, but Hasselbeck just might be up to the task.
3. The dome will play a big role on Sunday. Not necessarily the crowd noise – Hasselbeck's presence in the Titans' backfield probably mitigates that to some extent. But have you checked out the weekend forecast? We could climb all the way back into the mid-50s by gametime, but then again, given Minnesota's notorious weather swings, we could be trudging through snow by then. Regardless, this will be the first time this season that fans will be thankful for that glorious Teflon roof. Stay toasty, my friends.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.