Ask Cris: Sign of excellence

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NFL analyst and former Minnesota Vikings great Cris Carter is back to answer another batch of questions from readers. This week, Cris opens and closes the column with questions pertaining to Sunday's showdown in Indy.

If you would like Cris to respond to a question, send him an email and check next Wednesday's Q&A.

Here are Cris' questions and responses this week:

"I know the New England Patriots are on a roll, but do you think 'cause the Indianapolis Colts are playing at home that their team speed can mean the difference in this game?"

John Hendrie

No. Indianapolis' linebackers are faster than New England's, but the Pats play so smart and have good speed overall that I think that advantage is negated. The Pats have veterans at linebacker that know what they're doing and are pretty good, so it allows them to actually play as fast as you want linebackers to play.

"Besides you coming out of retirement, what can the Minnesota Vikings do to start winning football games? Should we start letting guys run on us a little more so they will stop passing? Should we go after a free agent quarterback? What I'm really wondering is how many rebuilding years are we going to have before we start getting good again?"

Coon Rapids, Minn.


Cole: Pats blow out another foe
Robinson: Let the hype begin

Silver: Moss silencing critics
Robinson: Vince Wilfork Q&A


Video: Jeff Saturday interview

Cole: Indy's offense the gold standard
Carter: Pats displaying excellence

Robinson: Rivalries of Super Bowl era
Wetzel: Belichick acting out


Video: Preview analysis of game


Video: Brady vs. Manning analysis

Silver: Rivalry extends to front offices

In terms of the last part of that question, no one really knows. Before we get into the players, you have to assess the people who are picking the players. Especially when a team goes into rebuilding mode and makes changes in the front office and coaching staff, you have to look at who they selected as a coach. Is Brad Childress really the right guy there? Is Rick Spielman the right guy handling the personnel? And can Rick and Brad successfully work together? On the field, the Vikings still have some major issues to resolve. Will they really ever have a dominant receiver? They took Troy Williamson in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft and he hasn't panned out. Can they utilize Adrian Peterson's running skills? And perhaps the biggest concern is their lack of big-play passing ability. Clearly, they have to grow up. They've brought in too many guys with high expectations – for instance, former Buffalo Bills first-round cornerback Antoine Winfield was signed as a marquee free agent following the '03 season – that need to step up.

"What are your thoughts regarding the New York Giants and how they are playing so far? Is it possible, after all these years, that they finally have the chemistry to win the Super Bowl?"

Rey Casiano
Bronx, N.Y.

If you're a Giants fan and just a football fan period, it's a good story on how they've turned their season around. This team came into the season with all kinds of turmoil – Tom Coughlin is in the last year of his contract; Tiki Barber retired; Michael Strahan sat out of training camp; and Eli Manning had failed to prove he's worth all that the team gave up to get him a few years back. But now, look at how they've come together. What's impressed me most is how they've kept everything in-house. When they struggled in the first two weeks, you didn't hear publicly about what adjustments they had to make. The defensive improvements they have made are tremendous and collectively, they're playing great football.

When you look at their ability to create turnovers, I certainly think they can emerge as the NFC Super Bowl qualifier. And in a one-game sudden death situation, it's football, so anything can happen. However, I think a few things are stacked against them. They have a lot of things stacked against them. Already, they've had a rash of injuries. This situation where Plaxico Burress is unable to practice, but still play at a high, level bears watching. In terms of their division, the Dallas Cowboys are a better team overall. So if the Giants don't win the NFC East, you're now talking about winning two or three road games just to reach the Super Bowl.

"Why does 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander look like he is afraid to play "tackle" football this year? … Does it have to do with his contract, injuries or lack of an O-line?"

Eric Rundstrom
Los Angeles

If you've watched Alexander play in college and since he's been in the pros, his running style has always been contrary to what you expect. He never had a running style that people ever really loved. He's never really been very physical or fast, though he's always been truly effective. I'm not going to jump to an extreme and say that Shaun Alexander is now scared to run the football or that he's no longer able to produce at a high level. However, I do wonder if the Seattle Seahawks offensive line is creating the type of holes it did a couple of years back. I also wonder if the wear and tear is starting to become a factor. As a running back, when you get the ball year after year – and I would say three years on the short end and seven on the long side – you reach a point where it seems like overnight, your body changes and you can't do what you used to do anymore. We see those drastic declines more at running back than any other position.

"With Ryan Grant's century mark rushing effort on Monday, does he emerge as the No. 1 back for the Green Bay Packers and does he make their rushing attack better or was it just the fact that the Denver Broncos are one of the worst rushing defenses in the league? Also is this season Brett Favre's best since his MVP years?"

Waupun, Wis.

You definitely have to like the fact that he ran very, very hard. I can't say that after one good game he's the answer, but he certainly needs the opportunity. If they're able to run the ball, the Packers become a very dangerous team. When you look at the two big pass plays they had against Denver, those happen because of a team's ability to run the ball. If you give Brett Favre time to throw the ball and single coverage, you're making the offense that much better.

As for whether Brett has elevated his game, yes and it's great to see. He has guys around him making plays, the offensive line is developing, but I think the biggest key is that coach Mike McCarthy has come in and made Brett focus on improving his fundamentals. Brett has opened himself up to McCarthy's advice and now you see the team getting wins on a more regular basis than the past couple of seasons.

"I am a Broncos fan and I don't know if it's just me or is Dre' Bly overrated and a stiff?"

Los Angeles

Well, he definitely looked bad against the Packers Monday night. I wouldn't call him a stiff, but he's not an elite corner and his style of play definitely makes him vulnerable to giving up the big play. He's very aggressive and sometimes there are consequences. I'm not sure how much the difference in the surfaces from Detroit (FieldTurf) to Denver (grass) play a factor, but he doesn't look as fast. With the Lions, I also think he played more coverage and zone defenses, opposed to playing more of a man defense now. He's definitely not a pure cover guy.

"Really would like your thoughts as a former player on the Patriots apparently running up the score in games. No class or no big deal? And your prediction on the Pats/Colts game?"

Kirk Bradley
Atlantic, Iowa

To me, it's not a big deal. People always say they want to see excellence, but now that you have a team performing on that level, folks are screaming that the Patriots should take it easy on foes. People say, "play the backups. Run the ball," but the defense still has to make tackles. For me, what's more humiliating than them actually "running up the score" on teams is that they're in position to ease up so quickly in the second half. It was 38-0 with almost six minutes left in the third quarter. Imagine Tom Brady and Randy Moss taking off their pads in the third quarter of an NFL game. That's unheard of.

As for Sunday's game – in which Colts coach Tony Dungy told me even he couldn't get me a ticket because the demand is so high – I think the Patriots will win. They have too much firepower. What they're doing right now is mind-boggling. The Patriots are playing as is they can do whatever they want and I just don't see the Colts being able to score enough to hang with them.