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THE NFC CENTRAL
William F. Reed
October 02, 1995
Defense by Dungy
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October 02, 1995

The Nfc Central

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Motor City Misfire

For the first time since Barry Sanders was a rookie, the Lions have started 0-3. Before Sanders came along, the team had begun the season with three straight losses 10 times, and in only one of those years, 1960, had Detroit ended up with a winning record. With the rookie Sanders leading the way in '89, the Lions won their final five games but still finished 7-9. Here is Detroit's record after opening 0-3.

Year

Record

1942

0-11

1946

1-10

1948

2-10

1949

4-8

1955

3-9

1959

3-8-1

1960

7-5

1974

7-7

1979

2-14

1987

4-11

1989

7-9

Source: DETROIT LIONS '95 MEDIA GUIDE

Defense by Dungy

As they kick back and enjoy whatever rest their bye week provides, the Vikings can review the first four weeks and feel pretty good about themselves. After a horrid performance in an opening loss to the Bears, they have shown weekly improvement in a victory over the Lions, an overtime loss to the Cowboys and Sunday's surprisingly easy 44-24 wrecking ball of a win over the Steelers. "It would be wrong to make too much of this game," said veteran Minnesota linebacker Jack Del Rio. "But we're getting closer to the style we need to play week in and week out."

The Vikings are arguably the best 2-2 team in the NFL, and when they return to action against Houston on Oct. 8 at home, they will begin a stretch of nine games in which they should establish themselves as a team that is finally ready to advance past the first round of the playoffs. "This doesn't mean we're Super Bowl contenders," running back Robert Smith said on Sunday. "We've got to be careful with that."

One day after his alma mater, Ohio State, destroyed Pittsburgh across town, Smith ripped off 101 of his 115 yards rushing in the first half, including a 58-yard touchdown run during which he lost one of his size-13 shoes. All-Pro wideout Cris Carter caught two touchdown passes, and Warren Moon threw for 213 yards, becoming the first quarterback to top 60,000 yards in career passing, counting the 21,228 he rang up in his six-year CFL career.

Nevertheless, Viking fans were happiest about their team's callow defense. Instead of being liabilities, rookie defensive backs Orlando Thomas and Corey Fuller, second-round picks from Southwestern Louisiana and Florida State, respectively, each came up with huge plays against Pittsburgh's pitiful excuse for a passing attack.

With the Vikings clinging to a 13-6 lead two plays into the second half, Fuller grabbed a Bam Morris fumble at the Steeler 12 and bulled into the end zone. That was the beginning of a folly-filled six-minute stretch. Fuller picked off a pass on the Steelers' next play, and the Vikings soon pilfered two more, leading to a pair of touchdowns and a 34-6 lead.

"They're good athletes," said defensive coordinator Tony Dungy. "They're strong, they're fast, and they can go all day."

In the Dungy scheme, speed is more important than size, and aggressiveness is more important than anything. Says Dungy, who at earlier stops in Pittsburgh and Kansas City put together outstanding defenses, "We'd like to have athletes who are both big and athletic, but if you have to give up something, we'd rather give up size. And we look for guys who are confident. All the members of our rookie class this year have been in big [college] games, and nothing seems to awe them. They like the spotlight, and that's what you want."

What Dungy wants to see now is continued improvement. "We're young," he says, "so we'll be a little up and down." Against the Cowboys, for example, Emmitt Smith's game-winning 31-yard touchdown run came after a lineman misunderstood the scheme called by Del Rio. But instead of getting down on themselves, the Viking defenders rebounded with a dominating effort against the Steelers.

Minnesota finished with six interceptions, and the one that capped the Vikings' third-quarter explosion turned into a laugher. With the Steelers down 27-6, Del Rio picked off a Jim Miller pass at the Viking 40. As he was about to be hit at the Steeler 45, Del Rio lateraled to Thomas, who carried it in for the score.

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