The Vikings' offensive line has experienced its most consistent stretch of the season despite starters still rotating in and out. Could it be a sign of things starting to come together?
The Vikings' offensive line has been very solid in its run blocking of late, paving the way for four consecutive 100-yard rushing performances by the team.
The latest came in the Vikings' 30-20 victory over Detroit as backup Artose Pinner
took over for the injured Chester Taylor
and rushed for 125 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns.
Overall, the Vikings rushed for 172 yards on 44 attempts, a 3.9-yard average. The stretch of 100-yard games began in Miami during a loss in which right tackle Marcus Johnson
and right guard Artis Hicks
suffered sprained left ankles.
Hicks returned to the lineup Sunday against the Lions, but Johnson remained inactive as veteran Mike Rosenthal
and rookie Ryan Cook
continued in a rotation system. Johnson is healthy enough to play but coach Brad Childress obviously likes what he has seen of Rosenthal and Cook.
Childress also likes what he has seen from the line as a whole.
"That's always a thing that comes along as you go," he said. "I see those guys making really good strides. Where it's baby steps it seems like in the beginning, I think those guys have developed a good feel for each other, both on the left side and the right side. The right side obviously has been a little bit in flux here with the injuries, but I just think they are playing very much as a whole. We talk about all the time those guys having to play well together."
Many felt it would take time for the line to mesh this season because left tackle Bryant McKinnie
was the only returning starter from 2005. Left guard Steve Hutchinson
was brought in as a big-name free agent; center Matt Birk
returned after missing a season because of injury; Hicks was acquired in a draft-weekend trade from Philadelphia; and Johnson was not a full-time starter as a rookie last year.
The Vikings' rushing totals beginning with the Miami game have gone like this: 114 yards on 35 attempts against the Dolphins; 157 yards on 33 attempts against the Cardinals; and 192 yards on 35 attempts against the Bears.
"It's just execution," Birk said of the recent run of success. "I think certainly as the season goes on, you feel more comfortable. The backs feel more comfortable. But I just think it comes down to covering those guys up and giving those guys a hole, giving those guys a lane. They've done a great job I think of hitting that hole hard, breaking arm tackles or whatever. They ran the ball hard. It's just worked out."
QB Brad Johnson held onto his starting job, as expected, and completed 14 of 22 passes for 159 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in a 30-20 victory at Detroit. His 66.3 quarterback rating was nothing spectacular but it was a huge improvement on the career-low 10.3 rating he had a week earlier in Chicago when he was pulled in the third quarter. There will be no questions about Johnson's job status heading into Sunday's game against the New York Jets at the Metrodome.
QB Brooks Bollinger served as the "emergency" third quarterback at Detroit after suffering a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder a week earlier while playing in relief of Brad Johnson. It's unclear if Bollinger will move back ahead of rookie Tarvaris Jackson and into the No. 2 role against the Jets. New York traded Bollinger to the Vikings before the season.
RB Chester Taylor sat out the Lions game because of bruised ribs but said he will return against the Jets. Sunday's game was the first Taylor has missed this season.
RB Artose Pinner was the Vikings' surprise go-to-guy against the Lions, rushing for 125 yards on 29 carries and three touchdowns and also catching two passes for 15 yards in the victory over his former teammates. This came after Pinner had been inactive for the previous three games. With Taylor expected back, Pinner likely will remain active but play mostly on special teams.
TE Jermaine Wiggins caught only one pass for six yards at Detroit. It was the second consecutive game Wiggins has played with a sprained MCL in his right knee. While the injury could be slowing Wiggins, figuring out his role in this offense has not been easy.
WR Troy Williamson returned to the field after being inactive at Chicago and tied for the team lead with three catches for 23 yards. The longest pass play to Williamson went for only nine yards but it's a start for a guy who has been plagued by dropped passes this season and is just looking to regain his confidence. Williamson is now playing with a clear visor after he was punched in the eye early on Nov. 27 after a charity event at a nightclub.
WR Marcus Robinson tied Troy Williamson with three catches against Detroit. Robinson, though, gained 45 yards on his catches, including a long of 25 yards.
Rookie CB Cedric Griffin continues to show why he has moved ahead of Fred Smoot into a starting role at right cornerback. Griffin had an interception, a forced fumble, recovered a fumble and had a team-high three passes broken up against the Lions, which earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. He also did a good job on his former Texas teammate Roy Williams.
S Dwight Smith returned an interception 47 yards against the Lions, marking the Vikings' longest return of a pick this season. Smith is tied with cornerback Antoine Winfield for the team lead in interceptions with four.
LB E.J. Henderson had a fumble recovery against the Lions and also had a team-high 13 tackles as well as a sack and quarterback hurry. It was likely Henderson's best performance of the season.