With a hot running back, it would be easy for the Vikings defense to focus on the Browns. Instead, their defensive tackle says it's on the Vikings' shoulders, and the statistics show they have been handling the load the six games.
admits to playing with a chip on shoulder all the time because he went undrafted coming out of Texas A&M
nine years ago. Vikings fans hope that chip stays there for the duration of Williams' time in purple.
Williams has been the Vikings' most consistent defensive lineman and probably their most consistent player this year. He and safety Darren Sharper
, each acquired in the 2005 version of free agency, are the only two Vikings worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.
However, the defense as a whole has been playing better, especially against the run. After yielding 712 yards rushing in their first four games – a whopping 178-yard average – the run defense has finally stiffened. Since then, in the last six games, the Vikings have given up only 454 yards rushing, a much more respectable 75.6-yard average.
The key, according to Williams and others on defense, has been the improvement in communication.
"It took a whole lot of time because we had different guys from different schemes. We're on the same page right now," Williams said. "About four weeks ago, we started jelling, started communicating more. Everybody knows where they're supposed to be, we're talking more, so everybody's there. That's why teams aren't doing a lot on us."
So when it comes to stopping Cleveland Browns
running back Reuben Droughns
, Minnesota's big 317-pound plugger in the middle who is fourth on the team with 54 tackles says it is still a matter of how the Vikings play versus how the Browns and Droughns play.
"Basically, he better worry about his line blocking for him and trying to stop us," Williams said.
Those are big words when it relates to a running back coming off a 166-yard performance last week against Miami, but Williams says the Vikings' defensive front isn't like Miami's, and for the first time in years that's a good thing for the northern team.
"That will be tough," Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said of getting a running game going against Pat and Kevin Williams
. "Williams and Williams on the inside, they are definitely something that you have to deal with. I know Pat because he was up in Buffalo when I was over there in New England. We played against him several times so I know what his capabilities are. … We are going to have to use all of our wits about us to try and run the ball. Reuben runs pretty hard, though, and our blockers feel good about his effort. They are going to give their little extra step or two to try to get him into the clear. It should be a good matchup."
Droughns took a handoff on Cleveland's first play from scrimmage last week and went 75 yards for the touchdown. Another performance like that this week would make Droughns the first Cleveland running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards since Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack did it in 1985.
That doesn't seem to matter to Pat Williams, who is keeping the focus on how the Vikings play, not who they face or who is ahead of them in the playoff chase, even the Chicago Bears
, who are two games ahead of the Vikings in the NFC North with six games to play.
"I'm not worried about the Bears right now. If we keep winning and they keep winning, it's going to come down to the last game," Williams said.
"Everybody counted us out. Everybody is still counting us out."
One of the more memorable meetings between these teams came on Dec. 14, 1980, when Tommy Kramer's Hail Mary pass was caught by Ahmad Rashad on the game's final play to give the Vikings a 28-23 victory over Cleveland at Metropolitan Stadium. The victory gave the Vikings their seventh NFC Central title in eight years.
Led by quarterback Joe Kapp, the Vikings cruised to a 27-7 victory over Cleveland on an 8-degree day in the NFL Championship Game on Jan. 4, 1970, at Metropolitan Stadium. That set up the Vikings' first Super Bowl appearance, in which they were upset 23-7 by Kansas City at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.
Longtime NFL fans will remember that Kapp, known for his rugged style and willingness to take on tacklers, knocked 250-pound Jim Houston out cold when the quarterback's knee collided with the Cleveland linebacker's helmet in the open field during the title game.
The last regular-season meeting between these teams occurred on Dec. 9, 1995, when the Vikings beat the Browns and coach Bill Belichick 27-11 at the Metrodome. That came three games before the Browns franchise moved to Baltimore. One of the most intriguing exchanges came when Belichick verbally went after Cris Carter because the Vikings receiver had expressed his displeasure with a Browns defensive back. Belichick, who is now one of the most highly thought of coaches in the NFL, didn't have the same respect at that time. "He used words that I don't agree with, that I don't use when I talk to another human being," Carter said. "That's probably part of the reason why his team is in the position it's in. ... You have to treat people like people. That's one of the things that he's had a hard time doing. He has a lot of talent, but he has no type of personality to deal with individuals."
The Vikings built up their six-game series edge on Cleveland by winning six in a row from 1969 to 1983. The streak began with a 51-3 thrashing, the most lopsided score in the series, during the regular season in 1969.
Vikings center Melvin Fowler was a third-round pick by Cleveland in 2002 and played for the Browns for three seasons before being dealt to the Vikings shortly before the regular season began.
Paul Wiggin, the Vikings' senior consultant/player personnel, played defensive end for 11 seasons (1957-67) with the Browns and played in 146 consecutive games.
At 4-6, Trent Dilfer's winning percentage of .400 is the best of any Browns starting quarterback in the expansion era.
The Browns' last victory over Minnesota is memorable, even if it was 16 years ago. They won 23-17 in overtime on a fake field goal from 31 yards when holder Mike Pagel rolled out with the snap and hit LB Van Waiters with a touchdown pass.
How long is 16 years in coaches' lives? Including interim coaches, the Browns have gone through Jim Shofner, Bill Belichick, Chris Palmer, Butch Davis and Terry Robiskie since the Browns beat the Vikings under Bud Carson in 1989.
Pressuring the quarterback continues to be a problem. The Browns have 13 sacks, the fewest in the league.
Dilfer has thrown 10 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, keeping him right on track for the way he has played the last seven years. Since 1999, Dilfer's last year in Tampa Bay, he has thrown 46 touchdown passes and 46 interceptions.
Philadelphia last week released former Vikings and Cowboys kicker Jose Cortez and punter Nick Murphy, who tried to catch on the with the Vikings a few years ago as well. Arizona released center Shawn Lynch, who spent time with the Vikings during the 2004 offseason as an undrafted free agent, from their practice squad.
BY THE NUMBERS: 105-80-4 - The Vikings' record in November during their 45 NFL seasons. The victory total is the most for the franchise in any month.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think what you're starting to see is the maturity level of this team. We've been resilient to the things that have gone on, and that's given us the mental toughness to pull out games like these. This is two on the road, outdoors, so for us you know that's big." - Coach Mike Tice after Monday's 20-17 victory at Green Bay. The Vikings had lost 24 of their previous 27 outdoor games before beating the Giants and Packers in consecutive weeks.
Syndicated content contributed to the notes portion of this report.