Three in a row?
Well fans, the Vikes followed up the solid effort against the Raiders with their best game of the year against the 7-3 Giants on the road. Experienced fans of the Purple, unaccountably surprised by joy, are sitting with their backs to the wall, keeping a sharp eye on the door.
The elements needed for a season-ending run are in place or were, at least, out in the Meadowlands. Tarvaris Jackson played another solid game at QB, his second good outing in a row. And he didn't even get hurt, due more to an improved offensive line than good luck. Let him develop a better sense of the pocket and the rush, and his natural ability afoot will make him much harder to sack than most. Right now he has to learn to either get rid of the ball or take off, sooner rather than later.
Since the coaches replaced Artis Hicks with Anthony Herrera, pass protection and run-blocking have improved enormously. The pass rush used to flow like a river through the center-right guard, and right guard-right tackle gaps, but no more. This has made life much easier for Ryan Cook, whose opposite number must now rely much more heavily on beating him around the corner. Michael Strahan had only two tackles last Sunday, and no sacks. Until the last few weeks, the thought of a Strahan/Cook matchup would have produced nausea.
Earlier in the year Minnesota pass blockers seemed to have no clue as to what their responsibilities were, and T.J. was constantly getting hammered by guys coming full speed who were never touched. I think that happened once vs. the Giants. Could it be that the Vikes have finally bought into Brad Childress' blocking schemes? I freely admit that I don't know how they are supposed to work, but they seem to be working, and the Vikes won't face a tougher front four again this year.
On the other side of the ball, the pass defense has finally stiffened a bit, certainly in the last three out of four games. It seems that Leslie Frazier has decided that he will need to employ a lot more blitzes and stunts, with plenty of disguise, in order to get pressure on the opposing QB. This is supposedly not in accord with the Tampa - 2 defensive philosophy, but it has been working. The good coach has to bend his strategies to his players and vice-versa. In the last four games the Purple thoroughly confused two decent QBs, San Diego's Rivers and New York's Manning, and put them out of their game plans. If they can do the same to Detroit's Jon Kitna next week, the Purple will make it three in a row.
Beware, however, the wounded Lion, and bear in mind that Eli Manning, whatever the pressure last Sunday, probably played the worst game of his career. The Vikes have no right to expect to see so many rotten passes thrown against them the rest of this season, let alone from one NFL QB. Detroit has the kind of receivers that do well against Minnesota, big guys who can go up for the ball with all three elbows flying, and Jon Kitna will not rattle like a child's toy. Marcus McCauley and Cedric Griffith will have to hone their ball skills if next week's matchup in the Hump is not to be a stomach-churner. And there is always the possibility of the Purple laying the inexplicable egg, confounding all this careful analysis.