Coming off a week in which everything the Vikings defense was concerned about on tape with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III came to fruition on the field, the flip side of that is facing the Vikings defense as they watch game film of the Arizona Cardinals.
No quarterbacks have been sacked with greater frequency than the Cardinals' Kevin Kolb and Sunday's starter John Skelton. They've been sacked 28 times through six games, but 22 of those have come in the last three games against Miami, St. Louis and Buffalo – none of whom are viewed as defensive juggernauts. They're taking a beating because of multiple factors – injuries at quarterback and running back and an offensive line that has struggled badly.
But Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who is understandably wide-eyed at the prospect of padding his sack numbers against a team that has allowed more than seven a game the last three weeks, isn't taking the Cardinals woeful offense for granted.
"Right now, we've got the Arizona Cardinals, who are playing good football," Allen said. "They've lost two in a row, but at one point they were 4-0. They've beat some good football teams and it's going to be a tough game."
While a younger version of Allen would have been focused on getting his sacks and doing his sack dance over and over again, the older, wiser Allen believes you can't get caught up in the hype because, just as the Vikings know that teams have exposed an Achilles heel of the Cardinals offense, he has seen teams use their weaknesses to fool opponents.
"I've played teams where, I always go back to the Texans, they gave up 50 sacks and we came in there in like Week 10 when I was with the Chiefs," Allen said. "All we saw was bootlegs. Teams also know that. You can't sit there and say we're going to be licking our chops and get after the quarterback because you're going to get burned by the run."
Instead, the focus will remain on the same tired mantra that you hear from defensive players – stop the run and make them pass. That is when sacks happen. Last year, the Vikings weren't able to consistently stop the run and the result was obvious – a record of 3-13. This year, the Vikings have their run-stuffing swagger back and the result has been just as obvious – a record of 4-2 with a chance to win in both of their losses.
"Our game plan never changes," Allen said. "It's always that we have to be successful on first and second down. If you go through watching the game film, the reason teams have been successful is that they've forced the Cardinals to be in situations where they had to go down the field. They've forced their offense to spread out and create some matchup problems."
However, there is reason for optimism because the Cardinals offensive line is a mess and has allowed those 22 sacks over the last three games – an unheard of number that, if carried over through an entire season, would result in a numbing 117 sacks allowed. It was the pounding that Kolb absorbed that resulted in his rib injury that will sideline him for the rest of October and possibly beyond. It would appear that Skelton would have a bull's-eye on his jersey, but that is a double-edged sword.
The Vikings defense stresses situational football, which, simply stated, forces an offense out of its comfort zone and makes them do things they may not necessarily want to do. Whether it was the Vikings' blowout win over Arizona last year at the Metrodome or the Cardinals' last two losses, it was consistently putting them in bad situations that created the gaudy sack numbers.
"If we can be good on first and second down or even first down – get some second-and-long and third-and-long situations – you can pin your ears back and get after it. If you can do that over and over and over, you can create rhythms. I watched the St. Louis game. A lot of those sack numbers came at the end of the game. That's because they actually got a lead and were able to force them to do some that. The same way with the Buffalo game. Go back and look at our game from last year. We were able to get a big lead and that takes away a lot of things they can do."
Although at times when a team makes a change at quarterback it can provide a spark to an offense and give a different dynamic – when Tarvaris Jackson or Joe Webb came in to replace Brett Favre, the Vikings had a vastly different skill set for their quarterbacks – Kolb and Skelton aren't that different in terms of what they do. They play in a conventional offense and are both old-school drop-back passers. The names may have changed, but the philosophy remains the same.
"It's all scheme," Allen said. "They're not going to do something different because Skelton is in the game versus Kolb. There's enough film from the preseason and Week 1 on Skelton that we get to watch. Different guys have different escape lanes. The bottom line is you've just got to rush and when you get the opportunity to get him on the ground, you've got to get him on the ground. From an offensive scheme, it's the same. When Adrian went down, we didn't change our whole offense. Toby stepped in and we still ran our offense. It doesn't really matter who is there, the scheme and the flow is still the same."
You can bet that Allen will be fired up for Sunday's game. His motor never runs on idle, but does coming into a game against a team whose quarterbacks have essentially been the clay pigeons for D-line target practice give him a little extra juice?
"Nah," Allen said. "I'm excited for every game."
NO SPEECHES NEEDED
When the Vikings lost to Indianapolis in Week 2, a game most thought they should have won and could have won after a late rally, veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield gave the team a fiery speech that many credited for the Vikings getting back to work with a greater sense of urgency.
After the disappointing loss to Washington Sunday, there was no such speech made. The Vikings of Week 7 are a different team from the Vikings of Week 3 and Allen said no such speeches were necessary this time around.
"Guys realize how good we can be," Allen said. "At the beginning of the year, we were still trying to figure out who we were as a team and where we were at as a team. I think guys realized there was a mistake here, a mistake there. We've got to forget this. We can be really good when we play the way we're supposed to play. Everybody got in Monday and got on the tape. There was no finger pointing. Everybody owned it, from the coaches down to the players. Everybody owned it, we move on and we get ready to play. From that standpoint, you can see the maturity of the team. We don't need a big speech to get us motivated. Everybody is self-motivated to win."
SEE YOU NEXT THURSDAY
The Vikings' only scheduled prime-time game is coming next Thursday when the team hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Allen hates the idea of the new league schedule that has Thursday night games throughout the season. The disadvantage is even worse for Tampa Bay because the Bucs have to travel to Minnesota on their short week of preparation, but it doesn't make it any easier for the players.
"That's brutal," Allen said. "It's hard enough to play one a week just trying to get your body right, especially guys who are nicked up. We put so much into those games – we physically, emotionally exert everything we've got. To be able to recover and come back for a Thursday game is tough. A Monday night or Sunday night game is tough, so a Sunday-Thursday game is asking a lot."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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