After undergoing shuffling throughout training camp and early in the regular season, the offensive line is starting to mesh as a unit.
"Every week that this group is together we just get tighter and stronger and more aware of each other's capabilities, or lack thereof, and how to work together," right tackle Chris Liwienski said. "It's all about getting the job done, five guys doing it together."
Liwienski, for one, knows the importance of having a cohesive group up front.
"It's extremely important," he said. "For any group of the team, offensive line is probably the most important because so much of what you do is in combination with the guy next to you. I'm a firm believer in the old saying, ‘You are only as good as the guy next to you.' I've been next to Dave (Dixon), this is my second season, and he's like my left hand. I know where he's going to be. He gives me a call, and I know exactly what he's going to do and what I need to do. It's a big part of it."
One of the keys to the Vikings' victory over the Lions was the performance of second-year running back Michael Bennett, who had 68 yards rushing and a season-high 70 yards receiving (four receptions), including a 45-yard touchdown off a screen pass.
"It's hugely satisfying," Liwienski said of Bennett's success. "He's a young guy who works really hard and is extremely talented. You want to see it pay off for him. Not to mention the fact when he does well, usually we are doing pretty well, too. It's a reflection of what is going on up front. Everybody doing their job good is going to help this team."
Despite the victory, Liwienski said he did not feel the line was at its best. "Honestly, I think we have had better games," he said. "But we won that game and that's all that matters."
Confidence is back
Bennett's 138-yard rushing/receiving performance against the Lions came one game after he ran for a season-high 91 yards in the Vikings' loss at Seattle.
"Without a doubt, I'd say his confidence is better," said Tice, who has increased Bennett's workload after starting the season using a three-running back rotation. "I think that one of the things that is making him more confident is the fact that he's pass protecting very well. I think that helps. When you get in there and get physical and mix it up a little bit …
"Also, I think what is helping his confidence is the fact that he has had to run some tough routes in there. There weren't really any gaping holes (against Detroit), and he hung in there and averaged over 4 yards a carry and was very efficient with his runs."
Tice especially liked what he saw when Bennett took the screen pass from Culpepper and scored.
"It was one of the first times you've really seen that speed and seen him open up," Tice said. "Talking to Robert Smith this week, I think Robert and I agree that him opening up on that screen is going to help him realize that he can open up on some runs, too. You saw a little bit of that when he bounced that one run on the weak side down the sideline for a few yards — nine or 10 or whatever it was and you saw that little burst of speed in there. I think as he gets going you're going to see more of that."
Cohesion Up Front
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