Before the Vikings bye week during Week 5 of the regular season, their run defense was rather sporadic. They allowed 230 rushing yards to the San Francisco 49ers in the first game of the season, then buckled down against the Detroit Lions and the San Diego Chargers, but then allowed 144 yards on the ground to the Denver Broncos.
Since the bye week, however, the Vikings run defense has been one of the team’s strengths. They have yet to allow a team to rush for over 100 yards since the bye, holding opponents to an average of 77 yards a game, which is quite the change from the 125½ rushing yards per game they allowed before the bye week.
When asked about what has changed since the bye week, both veteran defensive end Brian Robison and head coach Mike Zimmer said that everyone is understanding what they are supposed to be doing and executing on the field. There have been some minor changes to some techniques, and Gerald Hodges was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, but for the most part it is just because everyone is doing their job.
They also know their run defense is going to have to show up big this next week when they take on the St. Louis Rams and Todd Gurley, who is averaging 141½ yards per game in his four starts.
“I think we’re getting better every week,” Robison said. “Obviously, this week is going to be huge for us with Gurley and the things they do at St. Louis. We really have to be on our P’s and Q’s this week so it will be a good test for us.”
So what is the next step in the team’s development? They have tightened up their run defense and have been rushing the passer really well since coming off the bye, so what else is it they need to improve? If you ask Zimmer, it is just cleaning up all the mistakes they made the week prior.
“Yesterday I didn’t think we played tight enough coverage in a lot of areas, so we’ve got to do a much better job there,” Zimmer said. “… I think (the Bears) had two touchdowns in the red zone because we had a couple busts, so we have to eliminate those things. I probably did some things yesterday that were out of character as well. I could have helped the team a little better.”
Even though cleaning up mistakes that were previously made is always important, there are more specific goals that players on the defense have in mind. One of those goals is creating more turnovers on defense so they can help the offense score more points, which in turn helps the defense rush the passer more.
“Turnovers, turnovers, we need more turnovers,” defensive end and team captain Everson Griffen said. “We need to get to the quarterback more. We just need more turnovers. We need more turnovers so that we can allow the offense to score more points. That allows the defense to pin our ears back and rush, so we need more turnovers.”
Now, Zimmer has never preached hard about creating turnovers and it seems he would rather his team make the right play and the safe play over trying to do too much while trying to create a turnover. But if the amount of turnovers went up, it’s not very likely that you would hear him complain about it.
So far this season, the Vikings have recorded four interceptions, only one of which was by a defensive back, but their opponents have picked off their quarterback five times. But they are doing a little better when it comes to fumbles.
As a team, the Vikings’ offense has put the ball on the ground nine times, but have only lost the ball three times. Their defense, on the other hand, has caused opponents to put the ball on the ground seven times this season and the defense has come away with the turnover five of those times. That puts them at a plus-one turnover ratio, a number that you can be sure they are going to work on improving.
“I just think we need more turnovers,” Griffen said. “You need more turnovers to help the offense score more points. And if you help the offense score more points, that means you get to rush the passer even more during the game.”