Vikings positioned for a division run?

Brad Childress (Chris Graythen/Getty)

After a strange victory Monday night, the Vikings are a game behind NFC North-leading Chicago and in a position to make up ground before their bye week.

The Vikings' 30-27 victory over New Orleans on Monday night might not have been very pretty, but style points don't matter at this point. What is important is the Vikings remain in excellent position in the NFC North despite a 2-3 record.

Minnesota and the Green Bay Packers are only one game back of Chicago (3-2) in what is shaping up to be an extremely mediocre division and the Vikings have an excellent chance to make a significant move before their bye on Oct. 26.

This Sunday the Vikings will play host to the once again hapless Detroit Lions (0-4). The Vikings have not lost to the Lions at the Metrodome since 1997 and this game should get the Vikings to the .500 mark for the first time this season.

The Vikings then will travel to Chicago to face the Bears on Oct. 19. Back-to-back victories against division opponents would be a huge boost for the Vikings entering their one-week break and would take much of the pressure off coach Brad Childress. A 1-3 start didn't exactly do much to boost confidence in Childress' job security.

It's important to note that two of the Vikings' three losses have come against AFC teams (Indianapolis and Tennessee) so if Minnesota can have success in its own conference and division those early-season setbacks could prove to be a bit less painful in the long run.

The Vikings, though, certainly should not be lulled into a false sense of security by their victory at the Louisiana Superdome. That game revealed a few glaring issues for this team.

Perhaps most important was the continued struggles - and actually against the Saints it was more like a meltdown — of the kickoff and punt coverage units. Granted, Saints running back Reggie Bush is a gifted punt returner, but his two returns for touchdowns (71 and 64 yards) in the second half featured numerous missed tackles.

Childress decided to go after punter Chris Kluwe following the game, saying that Kluwe had been instructed to kick both those balls out of bounds, but the bottom line was the Vikings looked like a Pop Warner team trying to tackle Bush.

And it wasn't just Bush who had success.

Saints kickoff return man Pierre Thomas averaged 33.6 yards on five returns and had a long of 56 that set up on a Saints touchdown on their opening drive. The Vikings are last in the NFL in punt-return coverage, giving up an average of 20.5 yards. Seattle is 31st in the league, surrendering an average of 15.8 yards.

Minnesota's kickoff-coverage unit is second to last in the league, allowing an average of 29.8 yards per return.

Meanwhile, the Vikings offensive staff has to have some concerns about the lack of a running game against the Saints. Minnesota rushed for 44 yards on 26 carries as a team and Adrian Peterson had 32 yards on 21 carries, an anemic average of 1.7 yards per touch. It was the third-lowest output for Peterson in 19 NFL games, and the lowest team total for the Vikings in Childress' two-plus seasons as coach.

The Saints dared the Vikings to pass against them and while Bernard Berrian caught six passes for 110 yards, including a crucial 33-yard touchdown that tied the score in the fourth quarter, Minnesota needs to establish a down-field attack earlier in games to loosen things up for Peterson.

SERIES HISTORY: 94th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead, 61-30-2, and are 33-12-1 against the Lions at home. The Vikings have a 10-game winning streak against the Lions at home and have not lost to Detroit at the Metrodome since 1997.

NOTES

  • With middle linebacker E.J. Henderson lost for the season after having surgery on his foot, David Herron has taken over as the starter for the time being. It remains to be seen if he will remain in that role.

    Herron played college football at Michigan State and was not selected in the 2007 draft. He signed with the Vikings, was claimed by the Patriots off waivers following his release by Minnesota in its final roster cuts and then was signed to the Vikings practice squad in Week 2 of last year after the Patriots let him go.

    With Herron playing in the middle, the Vikings have switched up their nickel defense. Henderson used to stay on the field for all downs and either Chad Greenway or Ben Leber would come off. Now Greenway and Leber are staying in and Herron is coming out in favor of an extra defensive back.

    Meanwhile, the Vikings had four punters in for workouts on Wednesday. Chris Kluwe remains the team's punter but found himself in hot water with coach Brad Childress on Monday night after he failed to punt the ball out of bounds on two occasions.

    After the Saints' Reggie Bush returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown, Childress did not want Bush too touch the ball again. However, Kluwe ended up punting it to Bush twice more and the second time turned into another touchdown.

  • Bernard Berrian's 110 receiving yards against the Saints marked the first time a Vikings wide receiver has reached the century mark since the second game of the 2006 season. Troy Williamson had six catches for 102 yards in a victory over Carolina in what was Brad Childress' second game as an NFL head coach.

  • LB Erin Henderson did not participate in practice Wednesday after suffering a concussion Monday night in New Orleans. His status for Sunday's game against the Lions isn't clear.

  • WR Bernard Berrian was limited Wednesday because of a knee problem. He suffered the injury last week in practice but was able to play Monday night against the Saints and had six receptions for 110 yards and one touchdown.

  • LB Vinny Ciurciu was limited in practice Wednesday after suffering a concussion against the Saints. Ciurciu missed the Vikings' loss in Week 4 at Tennessee because of a knee injury.

  • DE Ray Edwards was limited in practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury suffered in Week 3 against Carolina. Edwards missed the next game but was able to play Monday night against the Saints.

  • TE Jim Kleinsasser was limited in practice Wednesday because of a foot injury that has bothered him for two weeks. Kleinsasser, though, played Monday night in New Orleans.

  • WR Sidney Rice did not play Monday night in New Orleans, missing a game for the second time in three weeks because of a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was limited in practice Wednesday.

  • CB Benny Sapp did not play Monday because of a hamstring injury and was limited in practice Wednesday.

  • C John Sullivan was limited in practice Wednesday because of a knee injury.

  • S Madieu Williams, who hasn't played this season because of a neck injury suffered early in training camp, isn't ready to return but is expected to be back late this month. He continues to do limited work in practice.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - Number of blocked field-goal attempts the Vikings have returned for touchdowns in the regular season. The first one happened Monday night when Antoine Winfield returned Martin Gramatica's blocked kick 59 yards for a score. The Vikings did return a blocked kick for a touchdown during the 1976 playoffs when Bobby Bryant did it against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love this team, the feeling we have in the huddle. All of the guys here, they're looking at me and have trust in what we are doing and have trust in me." --Quarterback Gus Frerotte after the Vikings' victory over the Saints.


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