Other than that, the differences among Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit aren't all that dramatic. To wade through a schedule like the Vikings', a club must be internally strong, well-focused, distraction-free. Hmm. Over the past couple of months the Vikings have seen their quarterback, Warren Moon, charged with assaulting his wife, and their coach, Dennis Green, charged with sexual harassment. Not exactly a recipe for stability.
On the field the defense, especially against the pass, was worse in 1994 than it had been the previous year. Forty-five sacks dropped to 36. The number of passing touchdowns allowed versus interceptions made went from 11 versus 24 in '93 to 25 versus 18 in '94. The rushing defense remained impressive, allowing an astoundingly low 68.1 rushing yards per game, the lowest in the league since the origin of the four-man line. But the reason was that few teams did much rushing against the Vikings. It was far more fruitful to throw the ball.
The sacks came up the middle from John Randle and Henry Thomas, and it certainly was essential to keep this pair together. But Thomas, one of the real pillars against the double-team, free-agented to, horrors, Detroit. Defensive end Robert Harris cleared out, too, and so did half the secondary.
The draft was supposed to address these vacancies, at least in part, but the top choice, defensive end Derrick Alexander, was the last first-rounder to be signed. He came in so late that he'll be virtually useless in the early going.
On offense, a lopsided pass (third best in the NFL) to run (20th best) ratio certainly wasn't helped when their second pick in Round 1, Korey Stringer, a 332-pound tackle from Ohio State whose history of leg injuries had made him suspect, went down with a sprained ankle. Then leading rusher Terry Allen was cut, while his replacement, Robert Smith, was launching a lengthy holdout that ended only last week.
Maybe we're being too pessimistic here. Moon might not be as quick on his feet at age 38, but he can still wing it. Cris Carter set an NFL record in '94 with 122 catches. The other wideout, Jake Reed, who had caught 11 passes in his first three years in the league, caught 85 last season. Fuad Reveiz kicked his way into the Pro Bowl. And Tony Dungy is one of the game's soundest defensive coordinators. I know the Vikings will do better than the 6-10 I've predicted for them, but when I played out the schedule, game by game, that is what showed up.