Sunday slant: Vikings know the turnover score

Leslie Frazier made a big impression on his defensive players when he flashed the statistics correlating turnovers to wins in the NFL. Maybe he emphasized that at the beginning of training camp because the Vikings have been bad with interceptions the last four years. How bad? The rankings tell the story and the players relayed the statistical impressions.

Ronnie Lott. Wasswa Serwanga. Deion Sanders. Robert Tate. Charles Woodson. Eric Kelly.

It's easy to spot the names that don't belong among some of the NFL's best defensive backs. The Vikings appear to have overcome the worst of their cornerback woes since they made the bold move to pluck the contract-signing pen out of Antoine Winfield's hands in the New York Jets complex and sweep him away to Minnesota on a private jet.

B.A. (Before Antoine), the Vikings were a sloppy mess of cornerbacks. The year before Winfield's arrival in 2004, the Vikings tried another free-agent Band-Aid with Ken Irvin and Denard Walker working opposite Brian Williams and that was as good as it had been in some time. In 2002, it was Williams and third-round draft pick Eric Kelly trying to steal passes away from accomplished quarterbacks.

The list of underwhelming cornerback combinations for the Vikings goes back through the Dennis Green era, with Winfield, a Tice acquisition, by far the most accomplished in the Green, Tice or Brad Childress eras from 1992-2010.

Leslie Frazier, a former cornerback himself, will have to forge forward without Winfield, who tied for the team lead with three interceptions last year. Picks were never Winfield's forte, and being among the team leaders hardly meant he was in rare NFL air. It's just that the Vikings, quite bluntly, have been terrible with the art of the interception lately.

In fact, they have been dead last in the NFL over the last four years. Last year, only three teams had fewer interceptions than the Vikings' 10. They were even worse in 2011, bringing in only eight interceptions in 16 games, including a record-setting nine straight games without an interception. That dubious accomplishment came despite leading the league in sacks in 2011.

It seems every Vikings defender and coach was reminded of the importance of turnovers in one of their first meetings of training camp.

"Coach Frazier put up a stat (at the beginning of camp). One of the things that we have been concentrating on is when the defense turns the ball over and scores you have a 75 percent chance of winning that ball game," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "So that's in their minds. Not just turning the ball over, but also scoring with the ball. We say that all the time, we're going to hustle, we're going to run to the ball so that when there is a tipped ball, when there is a ball on the ground that we have more purple jerseys around that ball than anyone else. So that is a priority in our camp, it will be as we are going into our season and as we practice."

Time and again, players, from Erin Henderson to Josh Robinson to just about anybody else you ask about turnovers, have been referencing that statistic. Frazier has it ingrained their memories, but that doesn't always transfer to execution on the field.

In the preseason opener Friday night, the Vikings' top two quarterback each threw an interception but Minnesota's defense didn't create any turnovers. They lost, which in the preseason isn't a big setback, but a team that is fighting for respect and the playoffs needs to turn every advantage they can in the regular season to milk out wins.

Their rivals in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers, aren't known for a staunch defense, but that same defense has been the best in the league over the last four years at getting interceptions and it isn't even close. The Packers have 103 interceptions since hiring defensive coordinator Dom Capers in 2009. The next closest is another perennial playoff team, the New England Patriots with 86, and then it's another NFC North nemesis, the Chicago Bears, with 78.

The bottom five teams in interceptions over the last four years are telling, too. Just above the Vikings are the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins.

"It's a must," middle linebacker Erin Henderson said of getting turnovers, then referencing Frazier's presentation. "It's real. It exists. It's important that you go out there and you take care of the ball on offense and you force some turnovers on defense. Your chance of winning grows exponentially every time you're able to take the ball away from an offense. It's really disheartening to those guys as well on the other side when you're at home and the fans in the Dome get to rocking and get it going. You can't really put a price on how important it is to take the ball away from the offense."

The fine line was on display even in the "meaningless" venue of a preseason game.

An interception of Christian Ponder on a tipped pass on the Vikings' first drive led to a Houston Texans field goal. Midway through the second quarter, CB Bobby Felder was in good position covering WR DeAndre Hopkins down the field and saw the ball in the air; he just couldn't out-jump Hopkins for the ball, and instead of an interception for Felder and the Vikings it was a touchdown for Hopkins and the Texans. The Vikings went from a 10-3 lead to a 10-10 tie, with Ponder's interception and Felder's inability to finish his play resulting in both of Houston's scores to that point in a 27-13 loss.

While the Vikings released Winfield, they are returning the four others who had interceptions last year – Harrison Smith, Robinson, Everson Griffen and Chad Greenway. Smith is especially important in that equation because he returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns.

That's a statistic that popped with Henderson during Frazier's presentation.

"The one that stuck out the most to me is if you get three or more in a game, you're like 90 percent of winning. Three-plus, you're 90 percent change. Two-plus, you're at almost 80 percent," Henderson said. "It just continues to grow. When it's even, it's a 50-50 chance. … It's something that's been pretty consistent over the years. It's been put up over time now. It's very important."

The Vikings have all been made well aware of the importance of an interception, they just haven't been very good at executing it.

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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