Lack of Sacks Spurs the Pack

AS IT TURNED out, the time-tested motivational strategy of firing the public-relations director wasn't enough to push the Vikings over the top against the Packers Monday night. And while much will be made of Brad Johnson and Corey Fuller's cases of the dropsies, Minnesota's incomplete passes on third and short, and the reverse crowd noise, the biggest surprise from the Vikings' 27-11 loss was the team's lack of a pass rush, usually an utterly reliable element of a Packers/Vikings game in the Dome. Give any NFL quarterback time to throw and he'll beat you, no matter how many defensive backs are roaming the secondary. Considering their core skills, the Packers' offensive linemen accomplished something they had no right doing and in fact hadn't done in the last five Dome meetings: They neutralized the quicker Vikings defensive line.

This would have been a good game for Vikings defensive coordinator Foge Fazio to go blitz crazy, although the notion of putting his high-talk, low-performance secondary in one-on-one coverages understandably must send shivers down his spine. But since he was getting no pass rush from his front four he had absolutely nothing to lose. Packers coach Mike Holmgren must not have been banking on his offensive line's ability to hold up, because he kept tailback Dorsey Levens hanging around the backfield on most pass plays until it became apparent no Viking had a bead on Brett Favre. Then, Levens would drift into the flats, on one such play burning the Vikes for a 16-yard reception that set up the Packers' second touchdown.

The Vikings' thumping has generated from fans and local media the usual Views from Armageddon--it's a total collapse, Green is gone, Johnson's a backup at heart, yadayadayada. The fact is the team should still win 10, thus possibly earning a home playoff game, and a victory against the overrated 49ers next weekend isn't out of the question. For better or worse, however, many Minnesotans' standard of comparison is not the 22 clubs with identical or worse records than the Vikings, but the neighbors to the east--about the only measuring stick that would equate a playoff season with failure.

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