If the Minnesota Vikings hope to avoid another late-season collapse, figuring out a way to stop their opponents’ rushers would certainly help.
The Vikings were convinced they wouldn’t end this season like last year, when a 6-0 start was wiped out by a 3-7 finish. However, fresh off their fifth loss in seven games, the Vikings find themselves in a similar position.
“Right now things don’t look very cheerful,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said following a 27-23 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
“You want all your goals to come out exactly as you planned … not many times does it come out exactly the way you dreamed about.”
Minnesota, ranked 23rd in the league in rushing yards allowed with 121.3 per game, has allowed an average of 141 while losing its last two games. The Vikings now face the hottest running back in the league in Jones, then conclude the season with matchups against Ahman Green and the Green Bay Packers and Clinton Portis and the Washington Redskins.
Jones has run for an NFL-best 551 yards over the past four games, including 196 yards two weeks ago and 156 last week—even against defenses with eight-man fronts.
With Randy Moss close to full strength and a defense that has tightened up in the second half of games, Minnesota may be ready to end its slide.
Three of the five defeats during the Vikings’ slump have come by a total of 10 points. Moss, a non-factor for five games with a partially torn hamstring, had four catches for 104 yards and a touchdown Sunday.
Although the defense continues to self-destruct in the first half, the Vikings have given up a total of 26 post-halftime points in the last five weeks. Lance Johnstone and Kevin Williams have 10 sacks apiece, tied for fourth in the league.
There are no signs of quitting or locker-room dissension, either.
“The goals that we set for us back in training camp, back in minicamp, they’re still there for us to reach,” Vikings safety Brian Russell said.
Minnesota is one game behind Green Bay in the NFC North.
Jones has been the lone bright spot on offense for the fading Lions, who have lost six of seven games since their 4-2 start. Despite being slowed by a sprained right ankle and limited playing time early in the season, he ranks fifth among NFC running backs—first among rookies—with 859 yards rushing.
If Jones runs for 150 yards Sunday, he will be just the ninth player in NFL history, and the first rookie, to do it at least three games in a row.
“That’s a testament to his running and the offensive line blocking,” Lions guard Damien Woody said. “The encouraging thing is we’re still running the ball effectively against eight in the box.”
Jones has produced since coach Steve Mariucci decided to get him the ball more after sharing time with Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson early in the season. In the last five games, Jones has averaged about 22 carries after getting no more than 15 carries or 65 yards in any of the first eight games.
The Lions are still having trouble passing, however. In the last five games, Joey Harrington has 611 yards passing and Jones has 632 yards rushing. Harrington completed just 5-of-22 passes for 47 yards in a 16-13 loss to the Packers on Sunday.