Notebook: Both Lines Look Different

The Vikings made changes to their offensive and defensive line. On offense, the changes were because of injuries and featured a rotating position. On defense, the Vikings employed a new look to get a playmaker more action. See what the players and coaches had to say about the changes, about Arizona's strategy, Chester Taylor's fumble, the wide receivers' performances and other notes.

After a half of a season in which the Vikings could barely acknowledge questions about potential changes on the offensive line, their 11th game of the season provided changes along the offensive and defensive fronts.

Offensively, the changes were made because of injuries, and on the defensive line the Vikings showed a new look.

Last week, as the Dolphins followed the midseason script of Minnesota's opponents and spread the defense out with multiple receivers and a pass-heavy attack, linebacker Ben Leber was only on the field for 18 plays. That wasn't an acceptable number of opportunities for a guy the Vikings considered a priority free-agent acquisition in March.

"That's ridiculous. He's too good a player," said defensive coordinator Tomlin. "He brings some unique skills to the table as a man who has rushed the back in the past as a 3-4 man. We know what he can do in the drop as a man coverage man."

While the Cardinals continued the theme of spreading the Vikings out, Tomlin countered by introducing a three-man defensive line that featured Ben Leber sneaking to the line of scrimmage to offer rushing possibilities or the option to drop into coverage.

Instead of only 18 snaps throughout the course of the game, Tomlin figured he was able to use Leber in that 3-4 formation 15 to 20 times, and Leber remained an integral part of the Vikings' base defense in addition to that.

"It's probably not as different as it appears to be. We're just trying to find ways to leave Ben Leber on the field, who we believe is a good football player," Tomlin said. "He has rush ability. He has coverage ability. He's a good football player."

Leber also has turnover-causing ability, as he forced two fumbles, figuring in on 40 percent of the Vikings' five turnovers. Safety Dwight Smith also had two interceptions.

"We had five takeaways. Anytime you do that you give yourself a great chance to win," Leber said. "I think we made it a little too close, but the five turnovers is great for our defense."

The new look didn't hinder the Cardinals from passing the ball, but with rookie quarterback Matt Leinart winging it 51 times, the presence of Leber also helped in rotating defensive linemen and trying to keep them fresh.

The offensive line saw changes from the start.

With Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson both deactive with ankle sprains, Jason Whittle started at right guard and Mike Rosenthal at right tackle, and it didn't appear to hinder the offense one bit.

Brad Johnson was sacked twice, both times by blitzing linebacker Karlos Dansby, and Chester Taylor gained 136 yards rushing behind the new-look line.

"I think on the whole, everybody played pretty well," Rosenthal said of the offensive line. "We were able to run the ball and everybody held up on the pass protection. We opened some holes. It's just a matter of effort and getting after some people."

Whittle had nearly the same assessment, but added, "You always wish you had played better and there are always plays you want back. There's definitely room for improvement."

While Whittle was informed last week that he would be starting for Hicks, Rosenthal said the plan coming into the game was for him and rookie Ryan Cook to rotate at right tackle, which they did throughout the game. It was Cook's first game on the active list.

"I thought he did pretty well," Rosenthal said of Cook. "He's got talent. He's going to be a good player."

Rosenthal started and played the first two series, and Cook took the next four series – two before halftime and two after - and Rosenthal finished the game.

While Cook is a rookie, Rosenthal and Whittle aren't only veterans in their own right, they are also used to working next to each other. Rosenthal estimated that he and Whittle played about 40 games together when they were both with the New York Giants.

"It was fun being out there," Rosenthal said of getting his first start of the season. "It was fun being with the guys while I was playing."

Asked if he thought that would be the plan next week, Rosenthal said, "I don't know what's going to happen tonight."

Childress also declined to offer an opinion on how the right side of the line will look next Sunday in Chicago if Hicks and Marcus Johnson are healthy enough to play.

No matter who starts next week, Rosenthal, Whittle and Cook at least proved they can be part of a successful offensive effort.

"We were staying ahead of the chains," Rosenthal said. "We didn't have a lot of penalties, we didn't have a lot of turnovers. That's kind of been the M.O. all year."


It's not often that a rookie quarterback will throw 51 times and have 405 yards passing, but that's exactly what Arizona's Leinart did. The Vikings intentionally made Arizona one-dimensional, with running back Edgerrin James rushing only four times.

From Tomlin to safeties Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith, two principle players in defending the pass, they welcome the increased passes that are flowing through the Vikings' secondary in the last month.

"We've been going through this for five weeks now. There isn't much more adjusting we can do," Smith said. "We know we have to be patient. Don't try to get out and do something that you can't do. These little 5- and 6-yard passes, they aren't going to be patient enough to do that all the way down the field. Tom Brady did, but Matt Leinart not."

Said cornerback Antoine Winfield: "You have to have the mindset that you're going to pick a few off. You know it's going to be in the air 40, 50 times, but we didn't have the opportunity. I think Dwight got two and we had some tipped balls that we could have got our hands on, but we didn't come up with them."

Smith said that making teams one-dimensional is a goal for the defense, and by having opponents throwing so much, their margin for error tightens up.

"That's what's going to happen when you come in and run the ball five times. You are not going to put up a lot of points because you've got such small room for error, real small room for error," Smith said. "If they want to turn these games into seven-on-sevens, us in the back end, we're going to love it."

The Vikings won the turnover battle, getting Smith's two interception and forcing five fumbles, recovering three.


The only turnover the Vikings committed was a goal-line fumble by running back Chester Taylor, whose two fumbles in Miami helped the Dolphins come from behind and beat the Vikings. As he powered toward the goal line Sunday against the Cardinals, the ball came loose, squirted to the side of the pile of players, and safety Adrian Wilson returned it 99 yards for a touchdown.

"That's a great learning tool for us. You have to finish drives, regardless of where you are, and you have to finish games no matter how big the leads are either," said quarterback Brad Johnson. "Chester has great effort like he always does, and I thought he had a great day today."

His fourth-quarter fumble that allowed the Cardinals to make the score 31-19 was his only blemish in a day when he gained 136 yards on 27 carries.

Replays appeared to show that Taylor crossed the goal line and may have even been down before the ball came out.

"I thought I did (cross the goal line)," Taylor said. "I felt myself down first because my helmet hit the ground first, then the ball hit the ground and that is when it came out. I can't do anything about that. They made the call and that is it."

The call may have gone unchanged because Fox, which was carrying the game, didn't have a goal line camera to show a definitive angle. With two losing teams playing each other, this was not a high-priority game for the network.


The wide receivers finally had a day where they didn't drop many passes. Marcus Robinson had seven catches, Travis Taylor five and Billy McMullen two.

"We did a great job at catching the ball," said running back Chester Taylor, who had three catches for 35 yards. "The receivers did a great job of catching the ball. Brad did a great job with his reads and check calling. The offensive line did a great job of blocking and everything. We can always get better. I am pretty sure when we watch film we are going to find some mistakes. We just have to correct them and move on."

Former first-round pick Troy Williamson saw some playing time on offense and dropped a deep pass, and he didn't have a catch for the second time in three games as his role continues to decrease. Williamson has struggled with dropped passes the entire season.


Arizona's passing success started early in their drives, especially in the first half.

On the offense's opening drive, Leinart hit Anquan Boldin for 29 yards to quickly get near midfield. An their second drive, Leinart opened with a 20-yard completion to Boldin, and the second play of the third drive was a 28-yard completion to Bryant Johnson.

"They were executing at a high level," Tomlin said. "They've got very good offensive skill – I don't say that lightly. They've got Pro Bowl receivers and Edgerrin James in the backfield. They are a very talented football team, so to do anything other than to give them credit would be a disservice to them."


In addition to Marcus Johnson and Hicks, the Vikings deactivated Tarvaris Jackson (emergency QB), WR Jason Carter, RB Artose Pinner, S Will Hunter, FB Naufahu Tali and DT Ross Kolodziej.

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