Friday, October 06, 2006

Grading the Vikings: Defense

Today I’m going to wrap up the grades with a look at the defense and then the coaching staff. My preview of the game will wait for the scheduling announcement this afternoon.

Defense Overall: B+

Defensive Line: B+

Linebackers: B-

Secondary: B+

The defense has been the Vikings’ best unit so far, keeping the offense in games. The defense is only allowing 289.5 yards a game, good for tenth in the league, and more importantly, are only allowing 16.2 points, tied for ninth with Buffalo. This is the kind of defense that can win a team ball games, and they have done their best to do so. Really, the only thing that it hasn’t done is create many turnovers, a crucial skill when the offense is so punchless.

The defensive line, led by Big Pat Williams has been a dominant force against the run this year. They’ve held opponents rushing games to only 89 yards per game, and 3.4 yards per carry. That’s huge, and one of the reasons that the defense has been so successful. They haven’t been as successful against the pass, however, which is problematic in the Cover 2 defense. Erasmus James’ injury, along with average play at best from Kenechi Udeze and Darrion Scott, has forced Mike Tomlin to call a lot of blitzes, thinning the coverage. The effect of this was obvious against the Bills, where it seemed like receivers were wide open on every play. The line has to get more pressure if the defense is going to continue to be successful. Without it, quarterbacks will be able to pick apart the zone, and interceptions are going to continue to be hard to come by.

Can't... Quite... Reach

If Tomlin is going to blitz, Napoleon Harris is probably his best choice to do so. He’s stepped up this year after moving to the middle, and is second on the team in tackles, including two huge tackles in the backfield against Carolina. The outside linebackers haven’t done as well, partly due to injury problems to Ben Leber and Chad Greenway, and partly because Dontarrius Thomas and E.J. Henderson aren’t that good. Thomas is awful, especially in coverage. Leber, on the other hand, has been a quality pickup, especially considering Greenway’s injury.

The secondary has also had injury problems, losing presumed starter Tank Williams before the season even started, but Dwight Smith has proven to be more than capable, both as a safety and as a p-i-m-p. Darren Sharper has played equally well, but has yet to intercept a pass (including an awful drop against da Bears that would have been a touchdown). And, of course, Antoine Winfield has been the best defender on the field, leading the team in tackles, playing great coverage and picking off Rex Grossman for a touchdown. Other members of the secondary have not done as well (I’m looking at you Fred Smoot), but despite that, the Vikings are holding opponents to only 200 yards passing a game, and continue to dominate on third down (usually third and long), only allowing their opponents to convert 30.4% of the time.

Celebrating in the House

If the defense continues to play as well as they have, they will finish amongst the best in the league, an amazing turn around, considering how god awful they were just two years ago. However, they can, and likely must, do more. The defensive line isn’t getting the pressure needed, and the secondary isn’t creating turnovers. The offense is nowhere near good enough to lead this team to the playoffs, so if the Vikings are going to make it, the defense is going to have to carry them there.

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