After reviewing film of the Vikings' performance against the Arizona Cardinals, head coach Brad Childress wasn't ready to commit to a starting lineup on the offensive line for Sunday game in Chicago, but this much is clear: The Vikings had one of their best offensive performance of the year with a new right side on the offensive line.
Jason Whittle replaced Artis Hicks at right guard and Mike Rosenthal started in place of Marcus Johnson at right tackle. Rosenthal and rookie Ryan Cook split time at right tackle. Both Hicks and Johnson were held out with ankle injuries, and both have a chance to be available for Sunday's game in Chicago if they are able to practice this week.
"I don't think I'm going to go about naming starting lineups on a Monday before the game. We just have to see, and again those are all situations that you make as you go through and watch them play and see if they can do what they need to do to be able to play," Childress said. "My philosophy is to put the best five guys that can give us a chance to win."
Considering that quarterback Brad Johnson had his best game of the season and Chester Taylor had 136 yards rushing, it would appear that the changes to the offensive line have a chance to stick.
"When you go out there and get a chance, you've got to do well or they'll find somebody else who will," Rosenthal said. "The way wins are these days, it doesn't matter if you outscore them by one or win by two or three and give up a safety, you're still happy to win. That's the bottom line. What you're judged on in this league is wins and losses, any way you can get it, whether it's pretty or whether it's ugly, beating them 50-49 or beating them 3-2, it's still a win."
The Vikings snapped a four-game losing streak in their 31-26 win over Arizona, and Childress seemed satisfied with the performances of all three newcomers to the Vikings line.
"Mike did a good job. Jason did a very good job," Childress said. "He battles you; he fights you. He gives away some things in terms of size at times, but makes up for it with that veteran kind of savvy."
Childress said Cook had mostly pass protections during his time in the game, but he might have also been helped out by going against a less-than-scary Cardinals defensive line. Besides missing their best pass rusher, Bertrand Berry, the Cardinals often used veteran Chike Okeafor on the right side of the defensive line, meaning he was going against left tackle Bryant McKinnie.
"(Cook) learned some things about the speed of the game, had a decent rusher coming off that side. I think Okeafor was on the other side most of the time. You know it's up another level this week with the Bears, the way they rush."
But the Vikings didn't seem to lose any punch with Cook in the game. On his second drive – the Vikings' last of the first half – they scored a touchdown to take the lead for good on an 80-yard, 11-play drive that featured eight passes, three of them for 15 yards or more. Their scoring ways continued, as they scored a touchdown and a field goal on their first two drives of the second half.
"I think everyone was executing. We didn't have a lot of missed assignments (Sunday)," Rosenthal said. "We were covering people up. When they were blitzing, we were able to block them up and give Brad enough time back there to be able to throw.
"I feel like the group that we have, the nine active guys or whatever we have in there, we've got a good rapport. Everybody shows up and does the film study. It's hard when people don't want to work, people don't want to get in early and do the dirty work."
Childress said having a close relationship off the field doesn't hurt the cohesiveness of offensive linemen on the field, and Rosenthal and Whittle definitely have that.
"Those guys are like, when they come back in the OTAs (organized training activities) you never see one without the other. They are like the odd couple walking around," Childress said. "You see one walk through the door, you see the next guy walk through the door. They are comfortable with each other. And just having guys that have played with the minimum reps, know the system, and then know how to get themselves ready to compete at that level – you need to on Sundays, it helps your comfort level."
On Sunday, Rosenthal (in his eighth year in the NFL) estimated that he and Whittle (ninth NFL season) had played 40 games together when both were with the New York Giants, and Whittle certainly seems to appreciate Rosenthal's abilities.
"I've always enjoyed playing next to Rosey. There's nobody else I'd rather play next to, frankly," Whittle said. "Ýou're never going to hear Rosey complain about anything."
While Childress said he'd let the media make a judgment on whether the Vikings offense arrived on Sunday or simply looked good playing against the one of the worst-ranked defensive teams in the league, these are the facts: The Vikings' 412 total yards on offense was their highest of the season, the 46.7-percent third-down efficiency was the highest since the season opener, their 31 points tied a season high, Taylor's 136 yards and 5.0-yard average were second-best for him this season, and Brad Johnson's 271 yards passing, three touchdowns and 108.9 rating were all season highs for him.
The insertion of Whittle, Rosenthal and Cook seemed to have something to do with those performances.
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