Opening Comments: ML: "As we look forward to the Vikings, it starts with their offense and quarterback, and what a fine year Brett Favre is having. The opportunity and the ability to come into an offense that he understood inside and out at such a high level, and he shows command of the football field in every area, utilizing the abilities of their perimeter players, the backs, the wide receivers, the tight ends. Spreading the ball around. They have perhaps the finest back in the league right now in Adrian Peterson. They're explosive and productive offensively.
"Defensively, it starts with the front group. They've invested a lot there, and they're playing very well. Ray Edwards, the Williams brothers (DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams), Jimmy Kennedy, who comes in and plays third down. They're a well-rounded group that does a great job of applying pressure to the QB. Les (defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier) has done a good job in developing their schemes and pressures and so forth, and coordinating off of that, and intertwining it all in what they're doing.
"On special teams, (Percy) Harvin is a good returner, and we have to be aware of him at all times. It's going to be a great, fun football game. Our guys are excited, and we'll be having at it."
Q: Are you amazed at what Brett Favre does at the age of 40?ML: "I'm amazed. He's done a nice job his whole career of not taking many big hits. He's always thrown the ball, and retreated and backpedaled out of the way. It's kind of fun to watch him play that way. I think that's a lot of it. He hasn't gotten his feet stuck a lot where he's gotten hit and taken a lot of shots. He's done a great job, and to do it as well as he has, it's been amazing."
Q: You re-signed Shaun Smith. Can he step in and contribute right away?ML: "We'll determine that as we go along. He's a big guy and a strong man who understands what we do a little bit. He was here long enough. We understand him. We know him. He knows us. It's just a matter of what he can do, and can he help us? It gives us an opportunity for more depth, and we'll see what happens."
Q: He played in two games in the UFL, so he should be in pretty good physical shape, right? He wasn't just a guy picked up off the street: ML: "That's a stretch. He's got a little bit to go in conditioning. But it's better under our eyes. We'll see what happens."
Q: Is there anything you expect to learn about your team over the next two games – at Minnesota and at San Diego – against teams that look like they're going to be in the playoffs?ML: "Well, I think we've played some teams heading to playoffs. It's the way the schedule unfolds, and this will be the next one up. It will be good. We started the season against Denver, then went to Green Bay and Pittsburgh here. It's kind of been on the track for awhile, so it doesn't change."
Q: Is there any kind of a change in focus with having to deal with a 30-40 minute bus ride to Mason, Ohio, today in order to practice indoors?ML: "I wish we didn't have to, but we'll do it and just get up and go. We'll be fine."
Q: What separates Jared Allen from other defensive ends?ML: "He has long arms and he gets great extension. He's got great lower-body strength as a rusher, with the ability to sink his hips and power, and to use speed. Like I said, his long arms -- he has a long, long reach -- and he plays hard. That kind of sets him apart. Plus, he's from Idaho State (Lewis' alma mater), so he's a smart kid (laughs)."
Q: You mentioned the talent on Minnesota's front four. Do they present a unique challenge, or are they similar to anybody you've faced?ML: "Well, in the running game, it's the seven- and eight-man fronts that you end up working against, so the four guys aren't as significant as everybody else who comes into play. These guys are good players, experienced players. Other than Ray (Edwards), the other guys have some skins on the wall. So, it'll be a good challenge for us. It's fun. That's what you want. This is one of the better teams in the National Football League this year, and so are we."
Q: What has made your run defense so good this season? Is it just the familiarity with Mike Zimmer's defense, or are there technical things you guys do better now than you've done at any other point?ML: "Well, it's a combination of things. Being more comfortable in what you do makes you do things technically better. I think that is the understanding. It's tackling. As I just talked about with the other team, it takes 11 guys to play defense. You don't play with four, you don't play with seven, you play with 11. That's what counts. Every time John Joseph comes up and makes a tackle, we've taken a step in progress."
Q: I know Mike Zimmer has been on Johnathan Joseph quite a bit about becoming more physical:ML: "He came here that way, and then he kind of fell back a little bit, but he's done a great job this season. And that's how you play good run defense."
Q: You were close to making the playoffs in '06. Do you take anything from that experience, in terms of how you prepare for the stretch run this year?ML: "I think '06 was a totally different group, totally different team and really has no bearing on this group at all."
Q: Did you take anything from that experience, as a coach?ML: "I didn't because we weren't in control of our destiny in '06. We didn't know we were. You know? We actually ended up being in control because everyone else kept losing. But we're playing for different stakes right now. We're not just playing to go to the playoffs. We have a chance to be one of the top seeds in the AFC, and that's what we're shooting for."
Q: I guess that was one of the lessons of '06: you're in control of your own destiny even when you don't think you are:ML: "So I guess that was the lesson."
Q: Do you like playing in domes? Do you have to change anything for a game in a dome?ML: "No, I don't think you have to alter anything. The lighting will be a little different. Our guys will have to get used to the lighting in pre-game. That's the only thing. When you go inside the dome, it will take a moment for the eyes to get adjusted. This group has not been to the Metrodome. I don't think I've been there since '98 when I was coaching at the University of Pittsburgh. I don't think I ever went there when I was in Pittsburgh (with the Steelers), and I know we didn't go there in Baltimore, so I think this might be my first trip in the NFL to the Metrodome. But there's no other difference. There's no wind, so it's great conditions that way. It's a little chillier than they expect because of the way it's held up there. But other than that, it will be fine."
Q: Will you go up to Mason tomorrow and Friday, too?ML: "We're going to Mason (today) because it's too windy outside and we're supposed to have a rainstorm coming in here. We aren't going there because we're going to be indoors (Sunday). I'll decide about tomorrow once we get a little closer to knowing the weather."