Game Day Turning Point

The offense was explosive, but the defense offered more than a glimmer of hope Saturday against the Saints.

What the Vikings are looking for this season in defense of their NFC Central title isn't big offense — they know those plays will come — but solid defensive plays that break up drives and don't put the pressure on the offense to score on every play.

Last year, the Vikings defense was among the worst in the league in creating turnovers and getting pressure on the quarterbacks, but that wasn't the case versus the Saints, and it created the turning point in the preseason opener.

The Saints were marching on their first drive before a sack by Fernando Smith halted it in its tracks and forced a punt, which the Vikings offense would turn into a quick 7-0 lead.

After the teams exchanged touchdowns, sacks by Shawn Worthen and Lance Johnstone quickly ended the next Saints drive. With the defensive line creating pressure, turnovers or near turnovers would follow.

The Saints' next drive came to a stop when defensive pressure forced Jeff Blake to fumble the ball. Although the Saints recovered the loose ball, it ended the drive and gave the Vikings renewed enthusiasm.

With the offense unable to take advantage of the strong defensive effort, the D came up with the game-tilting play — an interception by Craig Sauer on a pass over the middle that gave the Vikings the ball in Saints territory. The pick set up the Vikings in "go for the throat" mode and the team responded with a touchdown drive that gave the Vikings a 21-7 lead that would never get closer than a touchdown from that point on.

There are still many questions that need to be answered for the Vikings defense — one game does not a season make — but the thing that was the most lacking last season was in evidence on Saturday. The Vikings created defensive pressure on the quarterback — getting seven sacks and forcing the Saints to force passes because of the heat and, when that happens, interceptions follow. For those reasons, the Vikings defense played above expectations and created the turning point of the game. VU

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