The Minnesota Vikings' once-proud run defense is now average at best.
Back in the days of Pat Williams at nose tackle, the Vikings were first in the NFL in run defense three out of four years. Now it has gotten to the point that after the Carolina Panthers ran for 131 yards against the Vikings on Sunday, defensive end Jared Allen didn't think the run defense played poorly.
"I thought they were doing a great job stopping the run. I can only remember one run when they got out in the alley," Allen said.
But then he was informed the Vikings gave up more than 100 yards rushing in their 35-10 loss to the Panthers.
"You can't stop the run, you can't stop the pass, what can you stop, right?" Allen said.
That about sums up the Vikings defense to this point. They are ranked 31st overall – tied for 17th against the run and 29th against the pass. They are 18th in the league in yards per rushing attempt.
"It seems like we come up with a new theory every week, doesn't it?" defensive end Brian Robison said. "I don't know, man. We're missing tackles, they're finding the gaps. We've got to make sure that we don't allow those gaps to open up. It just comes back to fundamental defense."
One of the issues Sunday was that the Panthers had a lead early and were able to stick with their running game, even if it wasn't breaking out long runs on a consistent basis. They averaged only 3.4 yards per carry, a respectable number for the Vikings defense, but they were able to run it 39 times.
DeAngelo Williams led Carolina with 17 rushes for 64 yards with a long run of 22 yards. Quarterback Cam Newton kept the Vikings guessing with the read option and ran it nine times himself for 30 yards, and Mike Tolbert provided the tough yards up the gut with eight carries for 27 yards.
The Panthers' ability to continue to run the ball with decent success had the Vikings starting to bring their safeties down for run support, which in turn exposed their secondary to deep passes.
"No doubt that makes a difference. You start playing single-high when you're having coverage in the secondary," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "You expose those guys and it creates some dilemmas for your defense. We've got to go back and look at what we're doing, how we're doing it, how we can help both our run defense and what we're trying to do pass-defense-wise. It definitely creates some dilemmas for sure."
The Vikings appear to be catching the New York Giants next Monday night at the right time. The Giants are 30th in the league in rushing offense and their backfield is dwindling.
Right now, rookie Michael Cox is their only healthy running back.
Veteran Brandon Jacobs had 22 rushes for 106 yards last Thursday at Chicago, but he tweaked a hamstring, although he says he will play Monday night.
David Wilson, who was the starter at the beginning of the season, is expected to miss at least a few weeks with a neck injury, and Da'Rel Scott also injured a hamstring against the Bears and is looking doubtful to play Monday night.
Still, the Vikings have to fix their own issues rather than hope the Giants' struggles to run the ball will have them taking it easy on the Vikings. There are plenty of mistakes to correct.
"One person making a mistake a here, another person making another mistake on another play. It can hurt our entire defense," cornerback Chris Cook said. "Our defense is so based on assignment and everybody doing their job. If one person is out of their gap or doesn't fit the right way, a big play can happen at any time."
To date, it has been more of a consistent pounding, and the days of Pat Williams saying the Vikings were "smashing the run" appear to be over.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings run defense no longer what it was
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