At age 37, QB Brad Johnson has been a steadying influence for the Minnesota offense since Daunte Culpepper's season-ending knee injury Oct. 30 against Carolina.
"He's one of those veteran guys, who understands the game, and understands where to go," Rams FS Mike Furrey said. "They always talk about his arm strength going away, but yet he's smart enough, and played the game long enough, that he knows where to put the ball at, and things like that."
Johnson makes almost no mistakes - he has thrown eight TD passes with only two interceptions since taking over for Culpepper. He is accurate, disciplined, and doesn't mind checking down to underneath receivers. The Vikings are using more three-step drops with Johnson, which has led to fewer sacks behind a so-so offensive line. They are also going with a lot more play-action passes, which wasn't the case with Culpepper.
Mr. Robinson's new neighborhood
Talented, but tainted by drops and off-the-field problems in Seattle, WR Koren Robinson is beginning to make his presence felt in Minnesota.
After Seattle released him June 2, Robinson began his tenure in Minnesota as the Vikings' No. 5 wideout. But he's worked his way up the depth chart and has developed into their top playmaker at wide receiver. He had a season-high 148 yards on four receptions last week against Detroit, the first 100-yard day for a Vikings receiver this season.
Robinson has had few drops. He's also flourishing as a kick returner, ranking second in the NFC with a 25.9-yard average.
"He's a talented athlete, and it looks like he's got his head together," Rams interim head coach Joe Vitt said.
The rest of the bunch
Despite the recent emergence of Robinson, the Vikings haven't been nearly as explosive without WR Randy Moss. Jermaine Wiggins leads all Vikings - and is tied for the NFC lead among tight ends - with 54 receptions. He helps keep the chains moving, but has no TDs, no catch longer than 24 yards, and is averaging a modest 8.9 yards a catch.
Travis Taylor, who starts opposite Robinson at WR, lacks deep speed but is a dependable possession receiver with good size (6-1, 210) and good hands.
On the ground, the Vikings have used a running back-by- committee approach. Mewelde Moore has a team-high 551 yards rushing but has been slowed by nagging injuries - including a quadriceps muscle problem this week - and isn't a workhorse type. Michael Bennett, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2002, isn't as fast as he used to be and is averaging only 3.1 yards a carry this season. Rookie Ciatrick Fason has been used in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
The numbers haven't been overwhelming, but the Vikings have made a commitment to the running game during their five-game winning streak, running the ball 30 times or more in four of those contests.
Despite a glaring need at free safety, the Rams passed on the chance to sign former Packer Darren Sharper in free agency. He signed with the Vikings instead, and shares the NFC lead for interceptions with seven. Two of those have been returned for TDs. In comparison, the entire Rams secondary has six interceptions this season.
Sharper gets to a lot of balls, jumps routes, and still has speed and range at age 30. He cleans up a lot of messes in the Minnesota secondary, which is what you want from a top- grade free safety. Led by Sharper, the Vikes have 18 interceptions this season, tied for second-best in the NFL.
What's up front
It could be worse. The Rams could be facing both Williamses at defensive tackle Sunday. But 2004 Pro Bowler Kevin Williams will miss his second full game with a knee injury. That leaves Pat Williams (no relation) to clog the middle for the Vikings. Big, strong, and tough to budge, P. Williams is a dominating nose tackle. He's quick enough to begin with, but also does a great job of anticipating the snap count.
Stepping in for K. Williams has been University of Missouri product C.J. Mosley, a sixth-round draft pick last April. Mosley has made the most of his playing opportunity, with three sacks in his past two games.