Well fans, what you saw last Sunday was a win by a team with a winning record, 3-2. Last year this bunch was 1-4 after five games and were blown out in three of those losses. Things could be worse, although for most of the third period it looked as if the Vikes were not competitive with a Lions team that was among the worst in the league before they got sick.
On the bright side, Chester Taylor ran the ball for 126 yards, with Artose Pinner contributing another 13 on three carries. That much rushing production will generally put up a W for a team that plays decent defense as well. By now, the Vikes have held five opponents to less than 20 points; their defense qualifies as good and is improving.
I was totally nonplussed when Childress decided to pass on the FG and pooch kick. When is the last time the Purple has held any opponent to three and out down on the visitors' goal line? Yet, there it was, mainly because of a good pass rush that generated five sacks and, better yet, consistent pressure. By the time Lions QB Kitna flipped the ball to E.J. Henderson he was thoroughly sick of the thing and all the unwanted attention it was bringing him.
What we are seeing this year on the defensive side of the ball is the fruits of good, intelligent coaching, such as this team hasn't seen since Tony Dungy set sail for Tampa Bay. Is there a reason that Napoleon Harris is now a defensive stalwart instead of a bench riding stiff? -- that E.J. Henderson is playing fast instead of thinking slow? Obviously, it's Mike Tomlin, and things are only going to get better. Linebacking is now a strength of the Purple, and bringing in Ben Leber is not the main reason.
This delirium over the improved offense cannot, however, gloss over the Briggs & Stratton passing attack. Brad Johnson has a very workmanlike rating in the mid-eighties, but the whole scheme is too predictable and low octane to reliably control the ball. It seems that the only time the Purple offense does anything surprising is when it throws a low-percentage long pass to Troy Williamson when it needs a crucial three or four yards for a first down in the fourth quarter. Some of this has to do with pass protection, and a rushing threat which didn't scare anyone; both of these areas saw improvement against the Lions. In fact, Marcus Johnson neither lurched offside nor gave up a sack all day long.
Let's see what he can do against the Seahawks after the bye week, and then the Patriots the following Sunday. That will get the Vikes past the roughest part of their schedule. If they come through it 4-3 and make some strides on offense, while continuing to hold opponents down under 20 points, there is a good bet this team could go to the playoffs. If they can't trade up from the .22 caliber passing game, however, I don't hold out hope for much better than 8-8 this year.