Vikings agenda: defensive discipline

The Vikings return to work Tuesday with a focus on improving their run defense and staying disciplined.

Eddie Lacy, the powerful Green Bay Packers running back, entered last Thursday’s game with less than 50 yards rushing in each of his previous four games. Fortunes changed dramatically for Lacy, and misfortunes and miscues increased for the Minnesota Vikings defense.

Lacy finished the game with 105 rushing yards on 13 carries, a whopping 8.1-yard average. As the Vikings return to work Tuesday in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, the focus will be on eliminating the defensive mistakes and missed alignments that contributed to Lacy’s big game.

The Vikings spent generously on free-agent nose tackle Linval Joseph in March (five years, $31.25 million) to help shore up their run defense and switched their defensive philosophies under new head coach Mike Zimmer. Joseph said the Packers didn’t do anything to catch Vikings defenders by surprise. Instead, player after player bemoaned the defense’s lack of discipline.

“Everybody just has to do their job, pretty much. Even myself, if I have the A gap, I have to stay in the A gap and that’s just it,” Joseph said. “We have to take care of little things, and if we do that, then we’ll win more games.

“I think we shot ourselves in the foot. We were just playing out of gaps and not making plays that should have been made and it hurt us in the long run.”

There were plenty of long runs from the Packers. A team typically built around Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ right arm had some of its best success running the ball.

Three of the Packers’ top six gains were in the running gain, along with four of the top eight and five of the top 10 gains of 10 yards or more.

“There was a lot of freelancing. A lot of guys in the wrong place,” Zimmer said last week. “That’s what frustrates me the most. It’s disappointing.”

Now, after five full weeks of play in the NFL, the Vikings have the 15th-ranked defense and are 19th against the run.

They are giving up an average of 121.8 yards rushing per game and 4.3 yards per carry. The league average is 128.8 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.

Defensive end Brian Robison said “almost all” of the problems with the Vikings’ run defense were attributable to defenders being out of position.

“Taking nothing away from the Packers, they played a heck of a game (Thursday) night, they were on fire, but a lot of it is just us not being where we need to be, and a lot of times in football that’s the way it is – you get one guy out of place, two guys out of place, and the whole defense breaks down,” Robison said.

Robison said those mistakes aren’t showing up when the team views its practice film and then they turn on the game tape and “it’s everywhere.”

“I think it’s a mentality that we have to get out of our head where guys think that they have to go make a play, they have to go make a play in order to be successful, and that’s not the case,” he said. “We have to do our job, be where we’re supposed to be and the plays will come to us.”

Defensive end Everson Griffen said the Vikings might have gone into “desperation” mode too soon and need to realize that being behind a touchdown or two doesn’t mean it’s time to shirk responsibilities and gap integrity in the defense.

Joseph said he doesn’t believe the Vikings were “outphysicalled” by the Packers’ offensive line. But Zimmer said players weren’t shedding blocks properly to make the tackle.

“If we don’t learn how to stop the run, if we don’t learn to quit doing dumb things like jumping offsides on third down, having penalties, learn how to pass protect, it doesn’t matter who you play or when you play,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings will need to get the mistakes cleaned up in a hurry. On Sunday, they face the Detroit Lions, who could be relying more on their rushing attack if WR Calvin Johnson doesn’t play.

The Lions aren’t necessarily explosive, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, but they stick with the run game. Reggie Bush is averaging 3.6 yards per carry and Joique Bell 3.2. Those two have combined for 313 yards rushing through five games, but the Lions have just the 28th-ranked rushing attack.

Zimmer said he would “consider everything” in trying to fix the run game, which apparently includes the possibility of personnel changes. But he also said during a radio interview on KFAN that he might need to return to the basics in teaching his defense because of some injuries that have forced less experienced players onto the field.

With Lacy having runs of 29, 18, 11 and 10 yards and James Starks adding a 17-yard rush, the Vikings’ focus this week will be on staying disciplined on defense.

“It’s frustrating when people can run the ball down your throats, that’s what’s frustrating,” Zimmer said. “To give up big plays and a play that shouldn’t have happened. The long touchdown to (Jordy) Nelson, that shouldn’t have happened. Guys getting out of their spots in the running game, that was frustrating.”

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