So here’s the second half of the 98 vs. 09 team comparison. Let’s look at the defense. The first part can be found here.
DL: John Randle/Tony Williams/Jerry Ball/Derrick Alexander vs. Ray Edwards/Kevin Williams/Pat Williams/Jared Allen. There’s only one guy on the 1998 team I would take over the 2009 version, and that’s John Randle, and he’d rotate with Pat Williams, because as much as I loved JR, you could run right at him. He was listed a starter at defensive end according to pro-football-reference.com, but I remember him starting at tackle and moving to end on passing downs, where he was a lot less effective. Which leads directly to depth. The ’98 team had to essentially neutralize their most effective pass rusher on passing downs, because they had a stronger DT in Tony Williams than they did with back-up ends Duane Clemons and Stalin Colinet. The depth of the 2009 line is between impressive and remarkable, with former first rounder Jimmy Kennedy and solid run-stopper Fred Evans at tackle, and there’s little drop-off pass rush wise with Brian Robison on the field as opposed to Ray Edwards. But the kick return capability does take a hit. Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are the best in the business, and the 2009 line is the most impressive collection of defensive linemen since the Purple People Eaters.
LB: Dixon Edwards/Ed McDaniel/Dwayne Rudd vs. Ben Leber/EJ Henderson/Chad Greenway. Again, I’ll take everyone on the 2009 unit over the 1998 team. Eddie Mac had a Pro Bowl year in 1998, but I think Henderson is the better all-around player. Leber is one of the most under-rated LB’s in the NFL and plays both the run and pass solidly. Chad Greenway is on the verge of multiple Pro Bowls, and was a solid draft pick, rookie year knee injury aside. Dixon Edwards was okay, and Dwayne Rudd actually had a good year—this was the pre ‘celebrate like you won the Super Bowl after you tackled a guy 25 yards downfield’ Dwayne Rudd.
DB: Corey Fuller/Jimmy Hitchcock/Robert Griffith/Orlando Thomas vs. Antoine Winfield/Cedric Griffin/Madieu Williams/Tyrell Johnson. I like the 1998 squad here, with the exception of Antoine Winfield. The safety position is the weak link on the 2009 squad, and it was the strong suit of the ’98 Vikings. Fuller and Hitchcock both had career years in 1998, and Fuller cashed in during free agency. Jimmy Hitchcock returned three of his seven picks for a TD, then remembered he was Jimmy Hitchcock and returned to his mediocre self the following year. But he had a truly extraordinary 1998 season. Antoine Winfield is arguably the best all-around defensive back in the NFL, and Cedric Griffin’s talent level is on the upswing, and I would take Winfield over Fuller or Hitchcock, but overall the ’98 unit is hands down better.
Coaching: Dennis Green/Brian Billick (OC)/Foge Fazio (DC) vs. Brad Childress/Darrell Bevell (OC)/Leslie Frazier (DC). Well, I never thought I’d get into a ‘who’s better’ debate between The Sheriff and Chilly. Denny takes a fair amount of criticism over a lot of different things, and deservedly so, but he is the second winningest coach in franchise history. Overall, good in game manager unless it was a pressure situation, and a good evaluator of offensive talent. He was horrible, for the most part, in big games, and couldn’t develop a defensive lineman to save his life. See above when discussing John Randle shuttling between tackle and end; that really hurt the 1998 team. Oh, and Demetrious Underwood, really? Really?! Chilly is a much better overall evaluator of talent, and now that he has guys to run his system, his offense is humming. He loses points with his inability to develop Tarvaris Jackson, but that’s not even close to the Underwood debacle. Chilly had to get rid of a lot of old attitudes and prima donnas when he got here, and he’s done a very good job of assembling talent on both sides of the ball, whereas Denny looked at defense as an annoyance. Of course, having Zygi Wilf as an owner helps. Denny couldn’t win a playoff game, but he went regularly, and right away. Chilly has yet to win a playoff game and it took him three years to get there, so edge to Denny there. Overall, I’ll give it to Denny, but get back to me when the Chilly era has ended and we can do a complete comparison. If we’re talking about a one year snapshot, I’ll take Chilly. He took the big risk, and a lot of flak, for bringing in Favre, but it’s worked better than anyone would’ve thought nine games in.
Billick definitely got the most out of the offensive talent of the ’98 squad, and parlayed that reputation into a head coaching gig with the Ravens, and then a Super Bowl championship a couple of years later. Billick never found that potent an offense again, but in ’98 he was in a zone. Every play seemed to work, and the Vikes were unstoppable offensively. Bevell? I still don’t know if he has full autonomy to call the plays, and how much input Childress has for that matter, the same holds true with Denny and Billick). The 2009 offense is good, very good, but it’s not the point a minute explosion the ’98 team was, so give me Billick. I really, really disliked Fazio’s ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality, and it came back to haunt that team in the NFC Championship. That said, you could argue that Fazio got better results defensively with less talent than a lot of guys. Foge had to make do with what he had, (converted WR Robert Tate as a DB, shuttling Randle, no depth) and he did pretty good, for the most part. Leslie Frazier is a lot more aggressive than Fazio, but then again he has a lot more talent and depth than Foge did. I’ll take Frazier over Foge, just because I’d rather have a guy that’s calling a game to win it as opposed to calling not to lose it.
I thought that before I did this comparison, the 1998 team was pretty much head and shoulders above the 2009 squad, with the exceptions of one or two positions. After looking at them a lttle more closely, I think the opposite is true. Now, this doesn't mean that the Vikings will go 15-1 and go to the NFC Championship (or farther), but it does mean that they definitely have the potential to.
But they still gotta play the games.