Offense In Mid-Season Form

While the second- and third-string offense didn't click until late in the game, Daunte Culpepper and the first-string offense have looked very sharp at the halfway point of the preseason.

After the Vikings' first preseason game against Cleveland in the Metrodome, head coach Mike Tice surprised the media with a calm post-game press conference. After a lackluster defensive performance last weekend, Tice was thoughtful in his answers and assured those assembled that everything would be OK.

And there was some reason for optimism then. Well, mainly it was the offense, which Tice said looked good on its first drive against Cleveland and OK on the second.

The first-team offense looked even better in Buffalo yesterday.

As a team, the offensive line protected well, the tight ends had some good plays, the top three wide receivers each contributed handsomely, Daunte Culpepper looked very sharp for most of the first half and Michael Bennett ran extremely well, especially considering he wasn't even expected to play earlier in the week.

Consider these individual performances:

The much-balleyhooed Randy Ratio came through. By our numbers, eight of Daunte Culpepper's 19 passes went to Moss -- a 42 percent clip and above what Tice said he needed for his Randy Ratio. And, as Tice has pointed out often, when Moss is the target of 40 percent of passes the Vikings win -- which they did Friday. He ended with four catches for 71 yards.

Not only did Bennett play, he ran five times for 49 yards and scored on a 3-yard touchdown, showing very good patience when needed and a quick burst when that was called for.

Wide receiver Derrick Alexander made his Vikings debut and continued a career-long trend. Over the last six years, he has averaged 15.3 yards per reception and, in his Vikings debut, he caught two passes for 52 yards -- a 26-yard average.

Wide receiver D'Wayne Bates had three catches for 43 yards -- meaning if each of these three receivers would have played at that pace for the full game, it would have ended with Moss at 142 yards, Alexander at 104 and Bates at 86.

After playing only a quarter last weekend, Culpepper played the entire first half and completed just over 50 percent of his passes and threw for one touchdown. He ran well when he needed to (seven times for 34 yards), slid to avoid the big hits and also avoided throwing any interceptions. He appears to be maturing after having his 2001 season cut short with a knee injury – or maybe he is a better student of the game.

In total, the first-team offense looked very sharp, whether it is due to the renewed health and maturity of Culpepper and Bennett or the addition Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator. Whatever the reason, it gives cause for excitement.

* Doug Chapman and Corbin Lacina were left in Minnesota when the team went out to Buffalo to tend to injuries.
* In other injury news, linebacker Raonall Smith suffered a shoulder stinger in the first half and returned only briefly.
* The Vikings were only supposed to play the starters on offense for the first quarter and a series in the second quarter, but Mike Tice was convinced to let them play the entire half.
* Culpepper was on pace for almost 400 yards passing when he was taken out of the game.

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