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Vikes actually playing defense Playoff hopes not entirely nuts! (11/30/2005)
By John Edstrom

Well fans, it's been so long since the Vikes had any kind of legitimate defense that a lead of only ten points merely leaves their fans with a sense of impending doom. I know I didn't feel they had the game safely in hand until the Browns failed to make the two-point conversion after they scored late in the fourth quarter. And I didn't turn the TV off until Jermaine Wiggins successfully fielded the onside kick.

But the dawning realization is that the Purple can now protect a lead. Fat Pat Williams stops the run and serves as a hub, around which a pretty fair pass rush is beginning to turn. (This man defies all the laws of physics -- nay! -- gravity, by being able to move such bulk so abruptly and with such grace and power.) The linebackers have ceased to be a constant liability, although E.J. Henderson still runs himself out of many a play, and the defensive backfield covers and tackles, perhaps better with Brian Williams starting over the injured Fred Smoot. It will be extremely interesting to get him back, although I wouldn't bet money he'll start over Williams when he is healthy, probably next week.

The real weak link for the Purple is what it was day one, the offensive line, which remains a continuing work of improvisation. Marcus Johnson is a rookie whose athletic talent is useless in a man who can't avoid the dumb penalty. Mike Rosenthal is barely a journeyman. Adam Goldberg may never be more than a stopgap, who knows if Fowler is even healthy, and Herrera is a bright spot, having performed adequately for one Sunday and a half. Brad Johnson was afforded adequate protection this week, but the run blocking was pretty sad. Next week, the opposite is likely to be true.

All this adds up to a team which will not generate enough offense to win on the day when it doesn't get a lot of help on special teams and from its defense. Analyze the four game winning streak and it is plain that the Vikes could easily be mired down there with the Cheeseheads without that kind of help plus plenty of good fortune in general. Yes, the Purple is still capable of losing to anybody, anywhere.

But this is the season of thanksgiving, so let us note that, whatever else, success in the NFL is built first on defense, and finally the Vikes have begun to build a strong foundation there. What, then, lies ahead?

The Vikes are 6 - 5, and should beat the Lions, Rams, and Ravens coming up. They will likely be underdogs to the Steelers and Bears, but both must come to the Hump. The Bears must play the Steelers also, but in Pittsburgh, also Atlanta, and Green Bay twice, a team still possessed of Brett Favre, and due for some breaks just in time to spoil someone else's season.

You could make a smart bet that the Bears vs. the Vikes in Minneapolis New Year's Day will decide the Northern Division title. 


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