The Minnesota Vikings are kicking things old-school this season and are finding a lot of success in doing just that. In a day and age where offenses rely on the quarterback position and attacking opponents through the air, the Vikings are sticking to the tried-and-true approach of controlling the clock, wearing out teams on the ground and smothering opponents on defense.
It isn’t always the prettiest way to win games, but at 8-3 overall the Vikings are showing that it can still be a very effective way to win games. The defense has become the staple of this team under Mike Zimmer and they have begun to take on his mentality.
In some respects, Zimmer tries to boil it down to a simple game for the players.
“I think part of it is the things I say to them when I meet with them – ‘Hey, it’s an easy game, don’t let your guy catch the ball, in pass coverage don’t let your guy catch the ball, period.’ It’s things like that I guess,” Zimmer said.
A dominating defense is not something the Vikings have had in recent years. Before Zimmer arrived, they were one of they had one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Brian Robison has been with the team for nine years now and has experienced a lot of highs and lows with this team. Right now, the defensive end thinks the biggest reason for the success of the team is everyone is doing his job. He also knows, however, that there is still a lot of work to do.
“At the end of the day that’s really what it’s about, just doing your job,” he said. “All 11 guys being where they’re supposed to be when the defense is called. And if we do that we’ve shown we can be pretty dang good. But we’ve also shown that when we don’t do that we’re mediocre, so we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing here lately, which is all 11 guys doing their job and just let the plays come to us.”
What it comes down to in the nuts and bolts of this defense, and what separates it from defenses of the past, is everyone on the field seems to have a desire to beat the guy in front of them. Whether it is the new faces brought into the locker room, players playing for one another, or the head coach rubbing off on them, it is hard to tell, but there seems to be a change in mentality and a growing confidence.
“I think we’re just a defense that wants to impose our will on guys,” Robison said. “At the end of the day we want to be more physical than them. We want to take the fight to them and kind of just have that blue-collar work ethic every single day. We come to work and we bring our lunch pail and we do what we have to do to be better each day.”
It’s not just the defense that has that mentality, but the offense as well. This offense starts and ends with running back Adrian Peterson, who has been known as a tough, physical runner throughout his career. That mentality has really carried over to the rest of the team, as they now just want to beat and wear down opposing defenses.
“He’s running hard,” said fullback Zach Line of Peterson. “He’s running with a chip on his shoulder almost and he doesn’t even need the chip but he’s running like he has one. I think you’re looking at an elite back and it’s awesome to play with him because I know he’s going to make plays. He kind of drives the offense. How he’s running, he amps us up and we block harder and harder as the game goes on.”
When offenses rely on the running game as much as the Vikings do, it can sometimes take awhile for things to get going and the games are usually pretty close right until the end. That has been the trend for the Vikings for most of the season, but it seems to be the fourth quarter where their offense really shines.
They deal out damage throughout the entire game, hitting the defense line, linebackers and secondary play after play and it begins to wear on them. By the time the fourth quarter comes around, the defense is getting tired and Peterson does his best to take advantage of that.
“You can just feel the way (defenses) are kind of filling the holes, they are not as happy to do it as they were in the first quarter,” Line said. “They get in the fourth quarter and they start missing tackles, they’re getting tired. You saw that on his long run, a lot of missed tackles, and he’s still 100 percent in the fourth quarter.”
It shows. Peterson is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on all of his runs but a whopping 7.9 yards per carry in the fourth quarter and 7.2 yards on 21st carry or more in a game, both the best among the top-20 rushers overall.
The Vikings’ style of football is not always the flashiest, and it can often lead to games that might be a little too close for comfort. The Vikings aren’t likely to be blowing out many of their opponents, but as long as they get the win nothing else really matters.
“That’s just kind of the style where we’re playing right now and it’s really who we are,” Zimmer said, “and I’m not going to apologize for that.”