No Stuffing This Backfield

Besides the Randy Moss saga, it seems it is all about the running backs this week — as in what will each of them do when they are all back? It seems that situation is being settled before it even happens. Plus, stats and notes of interest.

Will the Vikings draft a running back above the fourth round ever again? Not if Mewelde Moore and Onterrio Smith are any indication of the talent level available in future fourth rounds. Smith, the team's fourth-round pick last year, carried the running game until a four-game drug suspension sidelined him the last three games.

No problem. Moore, one of two fourth-round picks of the Vikings this year, stepped in and has set a team record for net yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games (610). The previous record of 573 was set by Chuck Foreman in 1976. Moore has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. His 138 yards rushing against Tennessee was the third highest by a rookie in team history.

"Mewelde went from being a luxury to a necessity," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.

Oh yeah, the top two team rookie rushing marks belong to Smith, who had games of 148 and 146 last season.

With the Vikings set at running back with rookie Mewelde Moore, look for former Pro Bowl RB Michael Bennett to start returning kickoffs within the next couple of weeks. The Vikings need some juice on a bland kickoff return unit, and Bennett is one of the fastest players on the team.

Bennett hasn't returned kicks as a Viking. He started working on it in practice Wednesday.

The Vikings have nothing to lose. It's not as if Bennett is going to crack the starting lineup anytime soon. After missing the first five games because of two right knee injuries, Bennett returned last week and had only one carry for zero yards as Moore ran for 138 on 20 (6.9).

If Bennett doesn't seize his opportunity to return kicks, he might become a game-day inactive once Onterrio Smith returns from his four-game drug suspension next week.

Indications are Bennett isn't happy, but he won't cause problems while the team is winning.

  • The Vikings were No. 1 in third-down conversions (55.9) entering the Titans game. They dropped to No. 3 (50.0) after converting only 2 of 11 attempts, including 2 of 5 on third-and-three or fewer yards. "We'd have one person (make a mistake) here and another one there," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "It's a little wakeup call for our guys. Just a reminder that all 11 players have to be clicking."

  • QB Daunte Culpepper has completed only 56.4 percent of his passes for 687 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions in four games against the Giants. He has a passer rating of 65.7. Four of his touchdowns and 277 of his yards came during a win on Monday Night Football in 2001.

  • Culpepper still is on pace to break Dan Marino's NFL records for touchdown passes (48) and passing yards (5,084) in a season. But Culpepper's projected numbers dipped after Sunday's 183-yard, one-touchdown performance. Culpepper is on pace to throw 51 touchdown passes (down from 58 a week ago) and 5,197 yards (down from 5,651). "You guys can chart the Dan Marino contest," Tice said. "I'll talk to Daunte about which ‘r' to you want. Do you want the record or the ring? I think Daunte will tell you it's the ring."

  • Culpepper's 103.2 passer rating against the Titans was his team-record fourth consecutive rating of 100 or higher.

  • Although WR Randy Moss kept alive his streak of playing in all 108 games of his career, he failed to catch a pass for the first time in his career.

  • The Vikings are 3-2 on Halloween. The Vikings and Giants met on Halloween in 1971, the Vikings winning 17-10 in New York.

  • P Darren Bennett isn't having a great season, but he has done a good job of handling the long stretches of inactivity that comes with being the punter on a team with the No. 1 offense. After not punting against New Orleans, Bennett punted five times for a 40.6-yard average against Tennessee. He had a 61-yarder, and one punt was downed inside the 20.

  • WR Kelly Campbell has only one catch longer than 20 yards in his last six catches. He has two catches longer than 40 yards and is due for a long gainer.

  • RB Moe Williams, who has battled a strained left calf all season, was a welcome sight in the red zone against the Titans. His 1-yard touchdown run was the first rushing touchdown by a running back and only the second rushing touchdown by the Vikings this season.

  • CBs Derek Ross and Ralph Brown are competing for the dime back position in practice this week. Both players were signed after the season started. So was nickel back Terrance Shaw.

  • LG Chris Liwienski hasn't played nearly as well as he did last season. He had two holding penalties against the Titans. He also has missed blocks that he didn't miss all of last season.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know (Randy Moss) only played two plays. Were they token plays to keep his streak (of games played) going? Probably. Was it a mind game with Tennessee so they couldn't tell how good he was or how bad he was? Probably. Did we introduce him so the crowd could go wild? Probably." — Coach Mike Tice explaining why injured receiver Randy Moss (strained right hamstring) suited up against the Titans on Sunday.

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