Positives Do Exist in Vikingland

With a 3-5 record and several Pro Bowl-caliber starters on the shelf with injures, there is no doubt the Vikings are a disappointment to date, but there are some positives to point out. They seemed to play better defense in a 4-3 set last week (although it was against a thinned Detroit club) and the Vikings' history vs. the Giants isn't all bad.

CB Fred Smoot's fractured right collarbone means nickel back Brian Williams will step into the starting role opposite Antoine Winfield for the next four to six weeks.

Ralph Brown gets bumped up to the nickel, and rookie free agents Dovonte Edwards and Laroni Gallishaw get that much closer to playing. Edwards will be used in the dime package.

It doesn't help matters that the Vikings released veteran DB Ken Irvin on Tuesday in order to sign J.T. O'Sullivan off Chicago's practice squad to serve as a third quarterback. Irvin, however, had been used exclusively at safety.

The news isn't great on the front end either, as versatile DL Spencer Johnson aggravated an injury to his right knee in Sunday's victory over Detroit. Johnson is listed doubtful on the injury report.

Even without Johnson, odds are the Vikings will stay with the 4-3 base defense they switched to against the Lions following three games in the 3-4.

After getting only one sack and failing to force a turnover in their previous two games, the Vikings got to Lions QB Joey Harrington four times and also forced a fumble and made two interceptions as they applied far more pressure.

A couple of disclaimers about that performance: Harrington looked completely overmatched, the Lions were without WR Charles Rogers, and Detroit WR Roy Williams saw limited action because of an injury.

Nonetheless, the Vikings were encouraged because of a season-low total of mental mistakes on defense. Rookie Erasmus James, one of the team's two first-round picks, got his first career start at right end and played extensively in the first half. A right hamstring strain that isn't thought to be serious sidelined him for much of the final two quarters.

Pass-rush specialist Lance Johnstone was a key contributor with two sacks.

Kevin Williams also appeared far more comfortable at the three-technique than he did playing on the end in the 3-4. The only thing with Williams is the 2004 Pro Bowl selection continues to look winded throughout games, despite the fact the Vikings are at the halfway point of their season. Williams underwent off-season knee surgery that caused him to miss key conditioning time and ended up with him showing up to camp overweight.

One drawback in the 4-3 appears to be the fact that NT Pat Williams isn't as dominant. In the three games the Vikings played a 3-4, Williams arguably was the best nose tackle in the NFL.

Credit must be given to Winfield, who complained about the Vikings' game plan after the Oct. 30 loss at Carolina. Winfield didn't just run his mouth, he also did something about his frustrations, recording a team-high 11 tackles against the Lions. He also broke up two passes and grabbed an interception.

Offensively, the line played it best game of the season against the Lions, and C Melvin Fowler drew praise from coach Mike Tice for his performance. Fowler, making his fourth start, appears to be getting comfortable with the scheme and is playing faster because of it.

Having a veteran quarterback like Brad Johnson step in for the injured Daunte Culpepper probably doesn't hurt. While Culpepper is expected to make things happen, Johnson gives the Vikings more of a game manager at that position and appears to be a calming presence.

With Johnson starting, Minnesota will need a consistent performance from its ground game. That happened against the Lions as Michael Bennett, a forgotten man for much of the season and a guy the Vikings couldn't get rid of at the trade deadline, rushed for a season-high 106 yards on 18 carries and caught a 5-yard touchdown pass.

Bennett could be asked to play a big role again Sunday, depending on how running back Mewelde Moore's sprained right wrist feels.

NOTES

  • Quarterback Brad Johnson earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in his first career start against the Giants on Sept. 19, 1999, while playing for the Washington Redskins. Johnson is 4-1 in his career starts against the Giants, including 3-1 with Washington and 1-0 with Tampa Bay.

  • Running back Michael Bennett rushed for a career-high 167 yards on 15 carries, including a 78-yard touchdown run, on Nov. 19, 2002, against the Giants. The 78-yard run is tied for the third longest in Vikings history.

  • Giants Stadium was the site of the most embarrassing postseason defeat in Vikings history. Having beaten New Orleans in their first playoff game after the 2000 season, the Vikings traveled to New Jersey for the NFC Championship Game and lost 41-0. It was the final playoff game that Dennis Green would coach with the franchise.

  • Minnesota ended a nine-year playoff victory drought in 1997 with a come-from-behind 23-22 victory in a wild-card game. The Vikings scored 10 points in the game's final 90 seconds, erasing a 22-13 deficit. Kicker Eddie Murray's 24-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining lifted Minnesota.

  • The Vikings' past two losses to the Giants have sent the team into midseason tailspins. In 2003, the Vikings were 6-0 when the Giants beat them 29-17 at the Metrodome. That started a four-game losing streak, as the Vikings lost seven of their final 10 games and missed the playoffs. Last season, the Vikings were 5-1 before losing to the Giants 34-13 at the Metrodome. Once again, the team lost seven of its final 10 and missed the playoffs.

  • The Vikings won six of their first seven meetings with the Giants in a series that began in 1964. After playing in 1976, the teams did not meet again until 1986. The Giants then started a four-game winning streak.

  • Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton played for both franchises, beginning his career with the Vikings (1961-66) before being traded to the Giants (1967-71) and then eventually back to Minnesota (1972-78).

  • G Toniu Fonoti continues to rehab a hand injury and also is trying to get his weight down from the 404 pounds he reported at after being acquired from San Diego last month at the trade deadline.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 9 - Touchdown catches against the Vikings this season by tight ends, an NFL high. That isn't good news considering the Vikings will face Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey on Sunday.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want to be here, I love it here." - Cornerback Antoine Winfield, who was upset about the game plan after the Vikings' 38-13 loss at Carolina on Oct. 30, when asked if he was happy in Minnesota.


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