Notebook: Focus still on the run

The Cowboys are putting up some big passing numbers, but the Vikings defense always focuses first on stopping the run. However, that aspect of the defense hasn't been going as well as hoped recently. So what's going with the run defense? Leslie Frazier and his defenders explain.

The Vikings enter every game saying their defense wants to stop the run. But for the first time in three years, they weren't able to hold a team to fewer than 150 yards rushing when the New York Jets rushed for 155 against them on Monday night.

Now the Vikings face a Cowboys team on Sunday afternoon that at least has well-known names that would seem to be able to do damage on the ground as well.

"I get concerned when we get out of our gaps and we're not where we are supposed to be," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "People get anxious and start wanting to make other people's plays, then you get a little concerned. I think we'll get things where they need to be and we'll get tested this week by Dallas. They have the ability to run the football and I'm sure they probably saw some things in the Jets game that they think they can exploit so we'll have to really step it up and play good run defense."

The Cowboys are ranked 24th in rushing offense and Felix Jones is their leading rusher with only 197 yards through four games. However, Jones did have 109 yards last week against the Tennessee Titans.

"They've still got two good backs back there with Jones and (Marion) Barber. They do a lot of similar things, but I think Jones is a little more explosive," linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "We'll see how it works out. We've definitely got to have our eye on them and stop the run."

A bigger concern might actually be the Cowboys passing game. QB Tony Romo already has 1,346 yards passing , seven TDs and five interceptions in only four games.

But the Vikings defense doesn't operate on limiting the pass primarily. They always want to stop the run first and foremost and try to make an offense one-dimensional, even if that plays into the strengths of that offense. Even so, they have work to do to improve there.

"We have let some yardage leak and not up to our standards. I think we just stay on our details and stay disciplined and everything will take care of itself," linebacker Ben Leber said.

The biggest issue, according to Frazier, is that defenders are trying to do too much because the Vikings haven't had the lead too often this year. That has led to players missing their assignments and, especially in Monday night's game, too many big plays surrendered on the ground.

"We went back and looked and there were five plays that they got close to 100 yards on when we weren't where we were supposed to be and guys feeling like they have to make a play because of the circumstances of the game and you can't do that," Frazier said. "You just got to do your job and let everyone else do their job and we'll be fine. It's how we became, and have been, a great run-defense football team and that won't ever change."

The Vikings gave up a 23-yard touchdown run to Shonn Greene, along with rushes of 17, 16, 16 and 12 yards to LaDainian Tomlinson on Monday night.

For three straight years, from 2006-08, the Vikings boasted the top run defense in the league. Last year, they were second. This year, they are a disappointing 14th.

"There are definitely things that can be corrected, basic things, little things we've been doing for years, things we've been working on since summer camp," Henderson said. "Those things will get corrected this weekend. I think we'll get those things corrected and we'll jump up in those rankings."

AMERICA'S TEAM?

One of the Vikings' chief run enforcers, defensive tackle Pat Williams, is never concerned about the individual running back he is facing – or at least he won't admit to it. But it was clear entering the playoffs last year that Williams and his teammates were tired of hearing the Cowboys being called "America's Team," the nickname bestowed upon them for decades.

"That ain't America's Team. That's what the people say, the media say. They ain't American's team," Williams said. "I play for the Vikings. It ain't my damn team. The Minnesota Vikings are my team. It will always be my team. If they want to feel they're America's Team, if (Keith) Brooking wants to bring up some old (crap) that we really don't care about, that's old (crap)."

The old stuff Williams was talking about was Brooking's comments after the NFC divisional playoff game against the Vikings, when Minnesota scored a touchdown with 1:55 to play that made it 34-3. Brooking felt the Vikings were running up the score.

Williams said this week that Brooking was whining about spilled milk, but it was before Minnesota beat the Cowboys that the Vikings had tired of hearing the hype about Dallas.

"We kept hearing about (America's Team), but, hey, at the end of the day we proved everybody wrong, so it really don't matter," Williams said. "Right now, they're 1-3 and we're 1-3. We're trying (avoid being) 1-4 and they're trying to (avoid being) 1-4, so it's going to be a battle on Sunday."

NOTES

  • Vikings coach Brad Childress had a theme this week – the most desperate team wins. "In my experience, typically in these kind of games, the most desperate team wins, the most desperate team that's clawing for a victory. Expect it to be contested tooth and nail," Childress said.

  • Two points of emphasis this week were eliminating turnovers and penalties.

  • Childress said Friday afternoon that he still hadn't been contacted by the NFL about allegations that QB Brett Favre sent inappropriate photos to a former employee of the Jets when she and Favre were both employed by the team in 2008.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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