As the clock winds down to the start of training camp, there are going to be a lot of questions that need to be answered. For the first time since perhaps 2006 when Brad Childress took over, got rid of Daunte Culpepper and other players he viewed as malcontents and the Vikings headed to Mankato with a roster littered with new players, the Vikings have a ton of questions that will be answered – for better or worse – down in Mankato.
However, one that may be the most fascinating to watch is the one statistic that screamed out so loudly it almost makes the coaching staff cover their ears – the lack of interceptions from the Vikings secondary.
In 2011, opposing quarterbacks didn't have to worry about the Vikings picking off errant passes. They tipped passes. They knocked them down. They dropped some. But, they rarely hauled them in and created the type of big defensive play that tilted momentum and gave the Vikings the play they would need to either close out a game or get back into one.
Only Indianapolis had as few interceptions as the Vikings' eight picks. By contrast, the Packers had 31. Why? Indy was so bad that teams didn't have to throw late. The Packers were so good, they routinely had opponents in a position where they had to throw and abandon the run late in games.
How bad was it last year? Opposing quarterbacks combined to have a Pro Bowl year. They completed 367 of 538 passes for 4,361 yards (68.2 percent) with 34 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 107.6.
To put that in perspective, Vikings fans may want to pour themselves an adult beverage. Only two individual quarterbacks posted a higher passer rating than what the Vikings allowed – Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Granted, both played the Vikings and accounted for three of the games that they played. But the record should reflect that the Vikings also faced the likes of Josh Freeman (26th among quarterbacks in 2011 passer rating), Matt Cassel (25th), Kevin Kolb (17th), Carson Palmer (19th), Tim Tebow (28th) and Rex Grossman (29th). Not exactly a Murderer's Row. To make things worse, Tebow likely would have finished behind Grossman in the rankings had he not posted a sparkling 149.3 passer rating.
The leader of the anemic Vikings interception hit parade was Jamarca Sanford with two – and they both came in the same game against Arizona and Kolb. Other than that, six other Vikings had one each. Defensive end Jared Allen had one in the season opener – tying him for second place on the team when all was said and done, an honor so dubious that in the 51 years of Vikings football, a defensive linemen has never finished tied for second on the team in interceptions. It should also be noted that one pick has never qualified a player (defensive lineman or otherwise) to be tied for second on any Vikings team in the half-century they've been keeping such records.
Taking Allen out of the equation and Sanford's two-interception game, you only have five picks left for the other 14 games. Of those five, three of them come from players who are no longer on the team – Cedric Griffin, Asher Allen and Husain Abdullah. The other two came from safety Mistral Raymond and cornerback Antoine Winfield.
What makes this stat so troubling is that, in the modern era of the NFL, the only way to combat the increase in passing is to create a pass rush. Few teams did that better than the Vikings. Defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison combined for 30 sacks and 85 quarterback hurries – numbers that rival or surpass any other tandem in the league. Those kind of numbers result in QBs generally throwing passes faster than they'd like – either while getting drilled earlier or the fear of getting drilled again. Yet the Vikings had just eight interceptions.
Of all the problems the Vikings need to do to erase the memory of the 2011 season, perhaps none is more vital than finding a way to get the Vikings secondary to be a ball-hawking unit, not one that hits a spot and waits for things to happen in front of them. If that change doesn't take place this year, the memory of the 3-13 2011 season won't seem quite so distant.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Finding ball hawks a key to training camp
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