Grading The Team: First Quarter

A 1-3 record after four games doesn't bode well for the first-quarter report card.

PASSING OFFENSE: D — Sure, the Vikings knew they would miss Pro Bowl receiver Randy Moss, but this is ridiculous. Daunte Culpepper, bothered by a knee injury since the season opener, already has thrown 10 interceptions; that's one shy of his total for the entire 2004 regular season. He also has thrown only four touchdown passes, three of those coming in the first half of the Vikings' 33-16 victory over New Orleans in Week 3.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus — Michael Bennett has gone from the Vikings' top running back to barely being able to get on the field. Mewelde Moore took over as the top back in the Week 3 victory over the Saints and ran for 101 yards. That has been the Vikings' only 100-yard rushing performance this season by either an individual or the team. Part of the problem is an offensive line that has struggled for much of the season, particularly in the interior with rookie right guard Marcus Johnson and center Cory Withrow.

PASS DEFENSE: C — Opponents have had so much success running the ball against the Vikings that it hasn't always been necessary to establish the pass. The pass defense let the Vikings down in the Week 2 at Cincinnati, giving up a 70-yard touchdown bomb from Carson Palmer to Chad Johnson only 52 seconds into a 37-8 loss. But the next week, playing more man-to-man, cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield held the Saints receiving duo of Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth to a combined one catch.

RUSH DEFENSE: F — The Vikings have given up an NFL-worst 178 yards per game on the ground. Opponents are gaining 5.4 yards per carry on every rushing attempt. While the coaching staff says that free agent nose tackle Pat Williams is playing well, it's clear that tackle Kevin Williams has yet to come close to the Pro Bowl level he played at in 2004. Kevin Williams had off-season surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee and is still trying to work his way into shape.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — A major area of focus during training camp, this is one unit that has shown improvement. Almost all the starters are required to play on at least one of the special teams and the Vikings seem to be avoiding the mistakes that killed them in the past. Kicker Paul Edinger, an off-season free agent pickup, has made seven out of eight field-goal attempts. Rookie punter Chris Kluwe, picked off of waivers from Seattle just before the regular season, entered the weekend leading NFL punters with a 48.8-yard average. The team is still looking for more from both kickoff and punt returns.

COACHING: D-minus — It's never a good sign when four games into the season the head coach feels it necessary to bring in two longtime NFL assistants to serve as consultants. That's what Mike Tice did, getting retired friends Jerry Rhome (offense) and Foge Fazio (defense) to come in and evaluate things. Tice's hope was Rhome would serve as de facto offensive coordinator, enabling current coordinator Steve Loney to essentially return to running the offensive line. Ted Cottrell's defense has been inconsistent, looking solid in two home games but struggling in two road losses.


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