Vikes Rush D Earning Respect

The Vikings remain one of the league's lower-rated run defense. But that is due to a numbers game that doesn't reflect the difference that the team has made in the last month-and-a-half.

The Vikings are in the lower half (and in most cases the lower third) of the NFL in most offensive and defensive categories. But, as is the case with rankings in the NFL, the rankings are predicated by yardage totals. If a team is successful and builds a big lead, it isn't unusual for an opponent to pile up 300 yards in passing trying to catch up late against prevent defenses, making the yardage totals by themselves to be an unclear indicator of success.

The Vikings were mired at the bottom of the league's rushing-defense standings for the first month of the season, after allowing a long late-game touchdown to Cadillac Williams and being shredded on the ground by the run-happy Falcons.

But since returning from their bye week, the Vikings have been much improved in the run game defensively. In the last six games, the team has allowed just 75 yards a game on the ground and took both the Lions and Packers out of their game by stuffing the run consistently and making them both one-dimensional.

While the numbers are improving in the rankings department, they aren't a true indication of how good the Vikings run defense has become since the bye week. Read into them what you will, but if you ask teams like the Packers, Lions and Giants, they'll tell you the Vikings run defense isn't as bad as the rankings would tell you they are.

* Browns running back Reuben Droughns has topped 100 yards in two of the last three games.
* The Lions may fire coach Steve Mariucci as early as today as the Lions continue to wallow as one of the worst franchises in the league. Yet somehow the blame has never been turned at G.M. Matt Millen -- a broadcaster turned team president who has done nothing of note since taking the job -- other than draft wide receivers every year with high draft choices because the team is awful enough to consistently be drafting in the top 10 under his watch.
* Guard Toniu Fonoti was downgraded from questionable to doubtful Thursday and isn't expected to play Sunday.
* Despite pulling starter Trent Dilfer for rookie Charlie Frye last week, Browns coach Romeo Crennel insists Dilfer is his starter for Sunday, but didn't dismiss the idea of Frye coming in as a backup Sunday -- not exactly a vote of confidence for Dilfer.
* In the five games in which Mewelde Moore has rushed for 90 or more yards, the Vikings are 5-0. In the other games, they're 8-13.
* Injured DT Spencer Johnson and WR Troy Williamson both practiced Thursday and, barring setbacks, are expected to play Sunday.
* Tice hasn't decided whether rookie Marcus Johnson or veteran Mike Rosenthal will start at right tackle. Johnson replaced an ineffective Rosenthal in Monday's win over the Packers.

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