Vikings' domination is no fluke
Posted: Tuesday November 24, 1998 12:02 PM
When the Minnesota
Vikings dismantled the Green Bay Packers on
Sunday, it may have finally signaled the changing of the guard in the NFC.
The Packers' dynasty atop the NFC Central has ended.
Minnesota's two wins over Green Bay, by a combined 27 points, show a total
dominance over their division rivals. Minnesota has its eyes set on
home-field advantage in the playoffs, and if the road to Miami goes through
Minneapolis, Minnesota's a solid favorite to represent the NFC in the Super
Bowl. There are several reasons why:
- Dennis Green stuck
around. At the Super Bowl last year, Green was weighing lucrative
offers to leave the coaching ranks and give broadcasting a try. Frustrated
with ownership problems and constant media criticism, he nearly took a year
off coaching. He felt he owed it to his players to stick around, however,
and decided to stay, even with the possibility a new owner could fire him.
- No clear owner in the off-season. With the Vikings' ownership
in question, Green was able to make a few expensive personnel decisions
that might have been vetoed by a firm owner. The Vikings were able to
re-sign several key veterans -- tailback Robert Smith, offensive
lineman Todd Steussie,
defensive tackle John
Randle, receiver Cris
Carter -- to long-term contracts and secure the team's key players. All
would have been huge free-agent acquistions for other teams, and fans
forget that keeping your own players can be as valuable as luring in other
teams' stars. Players took less money to stay in Minnesota, because Green
has almost a college-type atmosphere and enthusiasm around this team.
Players like playing for him and remain loyal to his system -- this is rare
in the NFL.
- Taking a chance on Randy Moss. The main
reason Moss didn't go high in the first round was that many NFL owners
wouldn't risk bringing Moss' off-field problems into their organizations.
Green had a solid confidence in his ability to provide a good environment
for Moss, and his plan has worked magnificently to this point. A strong
owner might have fought Green and shot this move down. Moss has been the
difference in the Vikings offense thus far.
- New ownership brought
stability. Enthusiastic new owner Red McCombs has given the Vikings a
sense of purpose and the financial backing to continue their success. The
team isn't worried about moving anywhere -- they're committed to winning
and committed to Minnesota. McCombs has signed Green and his assistants to
extensions as well, so coaches aren't looking over their shoulder and can
concentrate on preparing the players to win.
- Offensive line coach
Mike Tice. In only his second season running the Vikings offensive
line, the former NFL tight end has brought a toughness and nastiness to the
team's strength. Last year, Minnesota went 18-for-19 on third and fourth
down with less than 3 yards to go, and Robert Smith set the team rushing
record. Smith is on pace to reset that mark this year, thanks to an
offensive line that's kept the same five starters for four years now. Tice
is a blue-collar, no-frills guy who's built this offensive line into the
NFL's best. This dramatic improvement has been a huge part of their success
- Speed and athleticism on defense. Green puts a
premium on speed on defense, and as a result, the Vikings aren't the most
talented defense in the league, but they are the most athletic. These are
not overachievers, but they make more plays than their ability would
indicate. They fly to the football and have shown themselves to be
opportunistic all season long.
All these combine to make the Vikings, in the midst of a five-game losing
streak this time last year, the NFL's darlings of 1998, and the league's
best shot to keep the Broncos from a perfect season.
Gary Horton is a former NFL scout and college coach who now heads up The
War Room, a publication offering an insider's perspective into the NFL. His
weekly column appears on Tuesdays throughout the season.