EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -When Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress thought about lauding the improved play of his offensive line earlier this week, he had to stop himself.
``It's always the kiss of death to say they are playing well, because then they lay an egg the next week,'' Childress said. ``But they ARE playing together.''
It's been a long and somewhat difficult process for the high-priced unit to get to this point.
Ever since Childress came to the Twin Cities almost two years ago, the Vikings have poured money into the offensive line. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Steve Hutchinson have signed contracts worth more than $100 million alone.
Center Matt Birk makes plenty of money in the middle and right guard Anthony Herrera just signed a five-year extension that could pay him as much as $15 million.
Most assumed that with McKinnie, Hutchinson and Birk forming one of the best three-man combinations in the league, the return on the investment would be immediate.
But the five-man group has taken plenty of time to grasp a new offense and blocking scheme as well as mesh on a personal level, an important part of any functional offensive line.
``It's a week-to-week thing,'' Birk said. ``Two weeks ago, we didn't run the ball very well. Last week, we ran the ball pretty well. But it's a total joint effort.''
The signs of progress were never more apparent than last week, when the unit opened big holes for Chester Taylor to gain 164 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over the Raiders.
For McKinnie, the difference is clear.
``We actually talk things over a whole lot more this year than we did last year and I think that's why it's gotten a lot better,'' McKinnie said. ``It makes us able to play a little faster.''
During the many commercial breaks that happen in an NFL game, McKinnie said he will go over the play in the huddle with his linemates, running down scenarios and making contingency plans if something goes wrong.
``A lot of times last year, a lot of people were unsure, so we didn't want to speak up about a lot of things,'' McKinnie said. ``But now, everybody has a better idea of what needs to be done. Now we can explain to each other, talk to each other, about how we intend to block something.''
It is hard to argue with the statistics. The Vikings have the No. 1-ranked run offense in the NFL, with Taylor averaging 5.6 yards per rush and rookie Adrian Peterson averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
As talented as both running backs are, that kind of production couldn't happen without quality blockers.
``They are really playing off of each other very well and understand who is on their right, who is on their left, how things are going to take place,'' Childress said. ``And that goes for the running backs, too. They are taking a good look at it and they know what to expect from the offensive line, so I think that's a pretty cohesive unit right now.''
The communication doesn't stop at the offensive line.
Taylor and Peterson are constantly chatting with the big boys up front, making sure they know where the holes are going to be and how quickly they have to hit them.
That has paid off in a big way this season, with Peterson setting the NFL single-game record with 296 yards rushing against San Diego three weeks ago, his second 200-yard rushing day of the season.
``I think we're doing a pretty good job of working together,'' right tackle Ryan Cook said. ``Communicating, I think, is the biggest thing. Getting all of us on the same page week in and week out, allowing us to have success.''
They still have plenty of work to do in the passing game. They allowed three sacks last week against Oakland and have allowed 27 in 10 games this season.
The Vikings will get their stiffest test yet on Sunday when they face the New York Giants aggressive front, featuring ends Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan.
``Two of the best guys at the position on the same team,'' McKinnie said.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story.

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