Eight Down, Eight To Go

At the halfway point of the season, the Vikings are in the middle of the playoff chase, but not as dominant as fans believe they should be.

The NFL is big on handing out grades to players, coaches and teams -- giving a quantified number or letter to achievement or lack thereof. As the Vikings prepare to enter the second half of the 2006 season, there are reasons for optimism and pessimism.

At 4-4, the Vikings are part of a huge logjam of teams in the middle of the pack, but, as of now, thanks to conference wins over the Redskins, Panthers and Seahawks, the Vikings would have the edge in tie-breakers. But there is plenty of room for improvement -- especially coming off a humbling 9-3 loss to the lowly 49ers.

The problems for the Vikings start on offense. Brad Johnson has just four touchdown passes and the offense as a whole has just seven touchdowns -- including a TD pass from Mewelde Moore and two rushing touchdowns by Chester Taylor. With anemic offensive numbers like that, you could make a case that the Vikings should be 2-6 or 1-7, not 4-4.

While Johnson's struggles are clear, the offense isn't without some merit. Chester Taylor is on pace for 1,400 yards -- which would be the second highest total in franchise history. He is also the team's leading receiver, but there are four players on pace to have 50 or more receptions this season. While as a group the offense had underachieved, there is reason for optimism that things can turn around.

On the positive side is the defense, which is ranked sixth overall at the midway point, including No. 1 vs. the rush. Kevin Williams appears to back in pre-injury form and is again staring down a double-digit sack year. Pat Williams is playing at a high level and Antoine Winfield and Darren Sharper are also at the top of their games. The Vikings are holding teams consistently under 20 points, which, in most circumstances, leads to wins.

If the Vikings can continue to do what they're doing on defense and show some improvement on offense, there's no telling how much better the team can get. Considering their schedule, as long as the Vikings take care of their business and beat the teams they're supposed to beat, they won't just be a playoff team at midseason, they'll be a playoff team when the playoffs actually begin.

* Marcus Robinson and Napoleon Harris remain doubtful for Sunday's game. DE Darrion Scott will try out his injured ankle today before the team makes a decision as to whether he will play or not.
* The Vikings cut guard C.J. Brooks from the practice squad and signed center/guard Norm Katnik.
* Pro Football Weekly named its midseason All-Pro Team and three Vikings made the list of first-teamers -- Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield.

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