What sort of playing time breakdown should we expect to see between Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata? Will it be closer to 50/50 than it was against Detroit, or is McKinnon still the top guy?
Gates: Mike Zimmer has said this week that he would like to get Asiata some more touches, but for the life of me I can't understand why. McKinnon is a freakish athlete, and thus far has made the transition from college option quarterback to NFL tailback pretty well. It generally takes rookie a little bit of time to acclimate, but with McKinnon's athletic skills, he has shown more than enough ability to get the job done. Asiata, on the other hand, doesn't have the moves or the athletic ability of McKinnon, but does have a bit more power between the tackles. If the two backs might have closer to a 50/50 split in this game, but as the season wears on McKinnon will probably continue to take over.
22 touches in six games seems criminally low for Cordarrelle Patterson. Is the team struggling to find ways to get him the ball, is Patterson himself struggling, the quarterback merry-go-round, or is it a combination of all of that?
Gates: A lot of it seems to be on Patterson himself. Zimmer said himself this past week that if Patterson wants the ball "he needs to get open more." I'm sure the quarterback carousel hasn't helped, but according to Pro Football Focus, of the Vikings' nine interceptions this season, Patterson has been the target on four of them (including Teddy Bridgewater's interception in the end zone last week against Detroit). They're trying to get him the football, but it hasn't been terribly successful thus far. Patterson is another great athlete, and is as dangerous in the open field as any player in the league. But he still isn't a terribly refined route runner, and he has a hip injury that everyone seems to think is bothering him more than he's letting on.
Bills fans are very familiar with bad offensive lines; we've been watching one for six games this year, as a matter of fact. What, exactly, has happened to Matt Kalil and the Vikings' offensive line, which has also struggled mightily this season?
Gates: I really wish I knew what was going on with Kalil. I have no idea if it's injuries or something psychological. . .I've even seen things that have said he's really not that terribly interested in playing football any more (though I'm not sure how much merit that has). Kalil was supposed to be the "safe" pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, a left tackle that was good enough to keep Tyron Smith at right tackle during their years at USC that the Vikings could plug in and not have to worry about that spot for a decade. Now they might have to worry about it as early as next year. Kalil's talent is undeniable, but he really has to figure out a way to get it all together, particularly now that he's protecting a rookie quarterback.
We're also very familiar with George Edwards, who coached some of the worst Bills defenses in recent memory. Now, he's running the defense for noted defensive guru Mike Zimmer. How are things going for the young Vikings defense?
Gates: The Vikings' defense has had a bit of a reversal this season over past years. The past few years, they've been known for strong play in the front seven while being a bit of a disaster on the back end. Now, under the eye of Zimmer and Edwards, the secondary is actually playing pretty well for the most part, and the renaissance of third-year cornerback Josh Robinson has been particularly fun to watch. The Vikings are six games into a new defensive scheme after nearly a decade of the same basic soft Cover-2 scheme, but we like quite a bit of what we're seeing so far.
How have the Vikings been using first-round pick Anthony Barr? Is he stuck in a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker role, or are they letting him do things like rush the passer in certain situations, as well?
Gates: Barr was expected by many to have a rocky transition from college to the pros. He only played linebacker for two years in college, and while he clearly had all the athletic tools, many wondered if he would be able to make the transition to linebacker at the NFL level. But Barr grabbed the strong-side linebacker job in camp and has proven to be a very capable linebacker so far. He has done a very solid job in coverage, the part that many thought he'd struggle with, and has shown quite the propensity for blowing up screen plays and being very good in pursuit. Barr wasn't expected to be quite this good this quickly, but he's exceeded the expectations of many thus far.