Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


A look at the first 4 -- minus the Williamses

Posted by: under Vikings, AFC, Lions, NFC, Vikings defense, Pat Williams Updated: May 6, 2010 - 3:51 PM

Until Kevin and Pat Williams get a final word in the next couple of weeks from Judge Gary Larson on whether they can play while their appeals are heard, we won't know whether the Vikings' defensive tackles will miss the first four games of the season.

But let's work under the assumption the two can't play in the Vikings' first four games of the 2010 season. If that's the case, that will mean the Vikings will face three teams that finished in the top-six in rushing offense last year without their two best run-stoppers. Keep in mind, the Vikings were first in the NFL in rushing defense from 2006-2008 and were second last year to Green Bay, giving up only 87.1 yards per game.

The Vikings' four defensive tackles behind the Williamses are Fred Evans, Jimmy Kennedy, Letroy Guion and Tremaine Johnson. The likely starters would be Evans at nose tackle and Kennedy at the 3-technique. 

Here's a look at the teams the Vikings could face without the Williamses:

Sept. 9 at New Orleans: The Saints finished sixth in rushing in 2009, averaging 131.6 yards per game. Mike Bell led the Saints with 654 yards on 172 carries and five touchdowns. Pierre Thomas was second (793 yards,147 carries, six touchdowns) and Reggie Bush was third (390 yards, 70 carries, five touchdowns). Bell is no longer in New Orleans, having signed as a restricted free agent with Philadelphia in March. That leaves Thomas as the Saints' main ball carrier. He had a team-leading 143 yards on 36 carries with a touchdown in three postseason games, including a playoff-high 61 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown in the overtime victory against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. Second-year player Lynell Hamilton also could figure into the mix in short-yaradage situations.

Sept 19 vs. Miami: The Dolphins were fourth in the NFL in 2009, averaging 139.4 yards per game on the ground. The Vikings figure to get a steady diet of Ricky Williams if Kevin and Pat Williams are forced to sit. Ricky Willliams gained 1,121 yards on 241 carries (a 4.7 yard average) with 11 touchdowns last year. That yardage total placed him 10th in the NFL. Ronnie Brown was second with 648 yards on 147 carries and eight touchdowns. AFC teams love to come into the Metrodome and try to establish the run. That is often difficult with the Williamses on the field but could be much more tempting against Kennedy and Evans.

Sept. 26 vs. Detroit: The Lions did not present much of a challenge with their ground game last season. Detroit averaged 101 yards per game to finish 24th in the NFL in rushing but that could change in 2010. The Lions, who were led by Kevin Smith's 747 rushing yards and four touchdowns, felt they upgraded in this area when they made a trade with the Vikings that put them in a position to grab Cal running back Jahvid Best with the 30th pick in the first round.

Oct. 11 at New York Jets: The Vikings could be closing their stretch of four games without the Williames by going against a team that ranked first in the NFL in rushing in 2009 by averaging 172.2 yards per game. Former Iowa star Shonn Greene led the Jets with 304 yards and two touchdowns in three playoff games and will be expected to be the Jets' top running back in 2010. Thomas Jones led New York with 1,402 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns during the regular season but he is now in Kansas City. The top sub for Greene is expected to be LaDainian Tomlinson, whom the Vikings also courted as a free agent this offseason. The Jets offensive line was outstanding but the decision to cut ties with left guard Alan Faneca could have a negative impact on the unit.

 

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