Last year, the Vikings averaged three-quarters of an interception a game – not three, but three-quarters: 0.75 interceptions per game.
That’s why Saturday’s 30-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs has to be viewed as more than just a “meaningless” win in an “exhibition” game. It wasn’t the final score, but how they got there that mattered to the surviving defenders of last year’s nightmare finishes.
It was more proof that head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense is going to be aggressive. And if they follow suit from what is generally considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the Vikings’ interception numbers might no longer be laughable.
They have added players. They have added playmakers. And they have stacked blitz upon blitz.
“We got five sacks, but I thought we could have had quite a few more if we would have been a bit more disciplined in our rush lanes,” Zimmer said. “We had our hands around the quarterback a few times and didn’t get him on the ground. It’s something that we’ve been working on and trying to get something different looks in there with some different guys. It’s good for our players to have something to build some confidence.”
The result Saturday was a defense that didn’t give up a touchdown until 25 seconds remained and had the presence to pick off three passes, including two against Chiefs starter Alex Smith. That’s the same Alex Smith that threw only seven interceptions all of last season in 508 attempts. That’s a 1.37 interception percentage.
Last year, the Vikings were tied for the fourth-lowest interception percentage, picking off only 12 passes in 648 attempts from their opponents. Zimmer’s Cincinnati Bengals had 20 interception facing only 614 passes, seventh in the league with an interception percentage of 3.3. This preseason, the Vikings’ interception percentage is 3.6.
After forcing a four-and-out and a three-and-out series on the Chiefs’ first two drives, the interceptions thwarted Kanas City’s two best touchdown opportunities of the first half at Arrowhead Stadium.
Captain Munnerlyn, the biggest free-agent addition in the secondary, stepped in front of a pass intended for Ron Parker in the end zone for the first interception. Chad Greenway, Minnesota’s leading interceptor last year with three, ended the next drive with a pick at the 8-yard line that he returned 28 yards. Shaun Prater finished off the interceptions with a steal from Chiefs backup Tyler Bray on his first series.
Those interceptions helped keep the lead for the Vikings. They were leading 13-5 after Prater’s interception, and Prater’s pick set up Teddy Bridgewater’s first of two touchdowns to Allen Reisner in a span of one minute, 44 seconds of game clock.
“They’re in tune to everything that we’re trying to get. Obviously there’s quite a bit of things that we need to work on, that we need to get better at,” Zimmer said. “It’s good to get some interceptions and usually when you get around the quarterback good things happen. I don’t know if we’ve improved; I just know that we’ve got a long way to go.”
Zimmer was pleased with the win and said it was good to give the defenders some confidence, but he wasn’t about to take his foot off the gas. Both in his postgame media press conference and shortly before that in his speech to the team, he emphasized avoiding over-confidence.
“We’ve got to be more perfect, more precise in everything that we do,” he told his players. “If we do that, we have to a chance to be a damn good football team, regardless of what everybody has said about us all year long. We go out there and we go play, we give everybody a full day’s work, more than they really want.”
“I talked to him before the game,” Zimmer said of Robinson, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. “I actually planned on letting him warm up and then not playing him in the game. And then I went up to him and asked him how he feels. I just wanted to get him about 10 plays and try to get him a little bit of game tempo and game situation, have a little confidence on his hamstring. I was glad to see he sucked it up and played. He wanted to go longer and I decided to get him out.”
Scott Grams contributed to this notebook. Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.