At long last, the Vikings defensive quarterback nightmare is over.
From Week 2 to Week 6, it can be argued the Vikings played against the most prolific quarterbacks in any five-week stretch of the regular season as they have in recent memory. The Murderer’s Row included Super Bowl champions Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers and blue-chip younger quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.
This week, they get Kyle Orton and the Buffalo Bills. The only way he’s getting into Canton is to buy a ticket, and if he’s the face of the franchise it’s a face only a mother could love.
While the Vikings aren’t underestimating what Orton can do against them, they admit that the gauntlet of quarterbacks they have faced to date was as daunting a test as they’ve faced in some time and, when they made mistakes, elite quarterbacks have a tendency of making they pay for it.
“I feel like at times we played lights-out and at times we didn’t,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “It’s just a matter of being consistent. If we were more consistent in the way we played these first six games, maybe we’re 4-2 or 5-1. We weren’t consistent. There’s no lull in the NFL. Just because we’re through the first six games and (played) some big-name quarterbacks, they’re still NFL teams we’ve got to play. Every week is a grind and we just have to be consistent.”
In the secondary, defensive backs were asked to hold their coverage longer than normal because of the innate skill sets of the quarterbacks they faced. All things considered, with the exception of monumental struggles early in games – the 51 points allowed by the Vikings in the first quarter is the most of any team in the NFL – but, for the most part, after their early struggles, the Vikings defense settled in and limited most of the big-time QBs from having their way with them.
“I thought we did pretty well,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “For me personally, I’ve got to play better. It’s just learning the people around me and learn how to play with these guys and make more plays on the ball. Other than that, I think we did a pretty good job. Those were some great Hall of Fame quarterbacks we played and I felt like we held our own. But that’s not the thing we want to do. We just want to go out there and win football games. It’s all about winning football games.”
Orton will likely be a different story. He is a journeyman who has a talent ceiling that isn’t inordinately high. In his 10th NFL season, he has played for five teams – four years in Chicago, two-plus years in Denver, a half season in Kansas City, one year in Dallas and this season in Buffalo. He’s started against the Vikings five times in his career and has lost three of them – throwing for more than 185 yards just once.
But, as veteran players can attest, you have to bring something significant to the table to last 10 years in the NFL. The Cowboys wanted to re-sign Orton in the offseason, which spoke to his value as a Plan B quarterback option. But with the struggles of young starter E.J. Manuel, Orton has gone from Plan B to Plan A, which has some Vikings looking at him more respectfully that Vikings fans might.
“He’s a veteran,” Robison said. “You have to be a good player to last as long as he has in the NFL, especially at the quarterback position. He knows how to read defenses. He knows how to run an offense and manage a game. He’s been around a long time and you learn a lot from that experience.”
For the Vikings defense, it will be imperative to get off to a strong start against Orton. Given the litany of elite quarterbacks the Vikings have faced over the last month-plus, playing from behind makes a bad situation snowball into something worse. They can’t let that happen Sunday at Buffalo, because, while it may appear the worst is over in terms of facing top-notch quarterbacks, it’s all about execution and that starts with bringing the heat to the quarterback and letting that pressure ripple through the three levels of the defense.
“We’ve done a lot of good things, but we’ve had some mistakes here and there,” safety Harrison Smith said. “Those are the things – as boring as it is to say – that you try to correct every week and try to improve on. We just need to start fast.”
While most of the Vikings players have never faced Orton – he last played the Vikings Nov. 30, 2008 – and Chad Greenway is the only Minnesota defensive player to have ever made the trip to Buffalo as member of the Vikings, there isn’t the sense of familiarity with the team. But, as Robison points out, the Vikings are beginning the preparation for what Buffalo’s offense does and doesn’t do well and how they use that time will go a long way to determining how they attack a pedestrian quarterback like Orton.
“The bottom line is that we get to watch them four days this week,” Robison said. “You got four days to get yourself familiarized with them. Not having familiarity is not an excuse. You’ve got to get yourself familiar with them.”
Orton isn’t a spring chicken, but with that service time comes experience. Fans may think the light has come out from behind the clouds with the Fab Five QBs the Vikings have faced over the last month being over, but the players aren’t taking Orton lightly … and neither should his detractors.
Elite QB run over, but Vikings respect Orton
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