Grading the Game: Lions

The Vikings earned all passing grades with their performance against the Lions, but some of the units still have plenty of room for improvement.

PASSING OFFENSE: C — Nothing spectacular, but unlike last week's game against Chicago, this area also did not prove to be the Vikings' undoing. Coach Brad Childress tried to keep it quiet that Brad Johnson would remain his starter, but everyone knew that would be the case by midweek. Johnson, coming off the worst game of his career, completed 14 of 22 passes for 159 yards with no touchdowns and a 66.3 passer rating. Marcus Robinson and Troy Williamson tied for the team lead with three receptions apiece. Johnson's lone interception was returned 88 yards for a touchdown by Lions CB Jamar Fletcher, but overall the quarterback played well enough to remain the starter for at least another week.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Workhorse RB Chester Taylor was inactive because of bruised ribs. Big problem, right? Nope. Artose Pinner, the former Lion, came out of nowhere to rush for 125 yards on 29 carries and three touchdowns, tying a Vikings single-game record. Pinner's emergence was a big surprise for two reasons: He had been inactive the previous three games, and RB Ciatrick Fason had carried most of the load the previous week at Chicago after Taylor got hurt. Pinner's success also can be attributed to an offensive line that played a second consecutive solid game. Heck, Johnson was able to scramble 3 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, his first rushing score since the 2001 season.

PASS DEFENSE: B — Lions QB Jon Kitna completed 28 of 41 passes for 294 yards and a touchdown, but the Vikings did get three interceptions and sacked Kitna three times. Rookie CB Cedric Griffin was especially effective, picking off a pass, forcing a fumble and recovering another. Safeties Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith also had interceptions. Because many teams have abandoned the run and are trying to pass against the Vikings, Minnesota has had to make adjustments to use its nickel package and also a 3-3-5 package that includes three down linemen and keeps SLB Ben Leber in the game. These packages seem to be improving on a game-by-game basis.

RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus — The Lions only attempted to run the ball 10 times against the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense. What did they get for that? A performance of minus-3 yards. That's right, minus-3. No team had been held to such a low total since 1961, when Philadelphia had minus-12 yards against Washington. The Vikings' swarming defense simply doesn't allow teams to gain yards on the ground; this is in large part (literally) to the presence of DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. It will be a crime if Pat Williams is snubbed from the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C — After giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown two games ago and then surrendering a punt return for a touchdown at Chicago, the Vikings coverage units showed improvement. The Lions' Eddie Drummond averaged 12.8 yards on four punt returns and 22.5 yards on six kickoff returns. The special teams were not without a few faults. A bad snap by Cullen Loeffler on an extra-point attempt in the second quarter cost the Vikings a point. On a kickoff return, special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro called for a reverse from Bethel Johnson to rookie Charles Gordon. Gordon could not handle the exchange. Although the Vikings kept the ball, the call was curious for a unit that needs to focus on the basics and not get fancy.

COACHING: B — Childress' refusal to name his starting quarterback seemed an unnecessary distraction — especially since everyone knew it would be Johnson — but it didn't seem to bother his team. This was in part because Childress had told his players. A week after a tough loss in Chicago resulted in Sharper becoming the latest player to criticize the offense, Childress has his players all on the same page. The Vikings played very well again defensively, forcing six turnovers (three interceptions, three fumbles) and the offense was able to capitalize this time by scoring 23 points as a result. Childress' goal now is to convince his players they can win their final three games and thus make a playoff push.


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