It's the turnovers, stupid.
At least, that's the mantra coming out of Winter Park this week as the Vikings prepared for the Detroit Lions with hopes of exiting Ford Field Sunday with their fifth consecutive win.
Brad Johnson has started the last four games at quarterback for the Vikings. The Vikings have won four straight games. For obvious reasons, fans have drawn a direct correlation between the two.
But a little closer examination of the way the Vikings have won their past four games clearly shows an improved defense, a vastly increased amount of turnovers caused by the defense, and in turn, a much shorter field on average for the Vikings offense.
Consider last week. All three of the Vikings' touchdown drives were of 35 yards or less. The Vikings offense hasn't been forced to mount long, time-consuming drives, thanks to an improved defense. Although head coach Mike Tice would prefer those type of drives, they haven't been needed nearly as much in wins over the Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns.
"Going into the last game, we only had one touchdown in 11 quarters," Tice said. "So numbers-wise, we actually have not (played better). We have been blessed to have some short fields because of the 15 turnovers that have been created by our defense in the last four weeks."
While the Vikings defense has created 15 turnovers in the last four games, the offense has coughed up the ball only five times (two interceptions, three fumbles). Most football coaches attest that the greatest statistic that best equates to wins is the plus-minus turnover ratio. In the Vikings' four-game win streak, they are a plus-10.
"The biggest thing is we have stopped the turnover bug," Tice said. "We actually had stopped that in the last couple of games before Daunte (Culpepper) went down with the injury. We had actually turned the corner on the turnover issue. Turnovers have been the biggest key."
Even though the defense creates turnovers, the offense has reduced its turnovers the last month because Johnson doesn't make many mistakes. Baltimore won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback when all he was asked to do is not throw interceptions. The Chicago Bears hope to utilize the same approach with Kyle Orton this year. In some ways, the Vikings are doing the same with Johnson.
Johnson has improved his quarterback rating to a respectable 85.0. He completes almost 60 percent of his passes and has thrown for six touchdowns versus two interceptions in four-plus games. Johnson said his familiarity with the Vikings receivers has never been better.
"One week Nate Burleson was hurt, (last) week Troy Williamson was hurt," Johnson said. "Whoever has been in has made plays. Last couple of weeks, Marcus Robinson didn't really get many opportunities. Last week he gets his opportunities in the red zone and scores three touchdowns.
"I feel very comfortable with all of our receivers and all of our different sets. It's just a matter of having the right play at the right time."
Johnson wouldn't be in a Vikings uniform had Gus Frerotte not opted out of Minnesota last winter. Frerotte chose to follow former Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to Miami for a starting opportunity, and the results haven't been what both had hoped.
Frerotte has started and thrown for 2,186 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His quarterback rating is a ho-hum 68.5. Most importantly, Frerotte's Dolphins are 4-7. The Vikings are happy they have Johnson, even if he wasn't their first choice.
"Gus wanted to start somewhere before he became too long in the tooth," Tice said. "At the same time, I think we were very fortunate that we were able to recruit Brad because he was sought by many teams."
Johnson Big Part of Turnover Turnaround
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