Leading A Rush

Despite an offense struggling with turnovers, the offensive line is playing well, according to the players and Mike Tice. They are leading a potent rushing attack, but they still need to improve in pass protection.

The numbers don't lie, but they certainly deceive.

One of football's oldest axioms is that if a team is successful running the ball, they win. Yet, even though the Vikings have struggled to a 1-4 record in the win-loss column through the first five games of the season, their rushing game has been effective.

Turnovers, of course, have killed the Vikings in practically every loss. The Vikings have been minus-3 in the turnover ratio in three games. Not surprisingly, the Vikings are 0-3 in those games. NFL teams, head coach Mike Tice said, are 0-11 this season when they are a minus-3.

If they can control their turnovers, the Vikings may be able to tally more checks in the "W" column. Thanks to their offensive line — the unit that has probably performed at the highest level of any on the team this season — the Vikings still have hopes of turning their season around. Or at least moving in the right direction.

The Vikings have averaged 146.2 yards rushing per game. Michael Bennett is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, Moe Williams is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, Daunte Culpepper is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and Doug Chapman was averaging 7.8 yards per carry.

"I think the offensive line has played above expectations," Tice said. "You can't run the ball with the efficiency we have in the preseason and regular season without doing some good blocking."

The Vikings have endured their share of adversity. Their first obstacle encountered was the endless holdout of No. 1 draft pick Bryant McKinnie, who was anointed the starter at left tackle in April. Tragedy sidelined left tackle Lewis Kelly for a couple of weeks at the beginning of the season. Several others have battled nicks and bruises. Pro Bowl center Matt Birk was the latest to play through the pain during the Jets game last Sunday. Reserves Everett Lindsay, Cory Withrow and Adam Haayer, who joined the team after they broke training camp, have all had significant roles this season.

Despite all the barriers the offensive line has been forced to maneuver around, they have still performed at a surprisingly high level. Kelly credits self-imposed high expectations and the team's depth.

"We all know each other no matter who is shuttling in and who's coming out," Kelly said. "All of us in the room feel like we can get better — especially myself. We expected to be the best, and we practice to be the best."

Even with the injuries and unexpected absences, the starting lineup has maintained consistency. Birk has started every game at center, David Dixon and Corbin Lacina have started every game at guard, and Chris Liwienski has started every game at tackle. The only change in the staring lineup has been at left tackle, where Everett Lindsay started the first two weeks and Kelly has started ever since his return to the team.

On a team that has more losses than wins, Tice said the offensive line has played well, but it can get better. One of the unit's problems, Tice said, is that some players focus on a poor play and let it affect future plays.

"You've got to let it roll off the back of your mind," Kelly said. "You don't want to think about it, but if you do it affects your performance.

"You messed up the play before, so you use that as a fuel for the next play. Most times, if you give up a sack it's bad technique, so you just try to do your best the next time."

A downfall of the offensive line has been their protection of Culpepper, who has been feeling "suffocated," Tice said, when he tries to pass in the pocket. But even sacks can be corrected.

"The good news is those physical breakdowns have been because of technique," Tice said. "You can fix that, which is good."

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