The Minnesota Vikings finished the 2015-16 regular season with the 13th-ranked total defense - No. 12 against the pass and No. 17 against the run. It was an improvement from the year prior, but they know there is still plenty more to do if they want to reach their goal of having the best defense in the NFL.
Defensive end Everson Griffen said that the next step for the team is to be in the top three in every defensive category. It would be be a big jump, but the team seems to have a plan to try to reach that goal.
“I think when we look at areas we can get better at, obviously we need to create more turnovers. I think two-minute at the end of the half is going to be a huge emphasis this year,” said defensive end Brian Robison. “Really not allow teams to dink and dunk, and get down the field and score touchdowns or field goals at the end of the half. That’s going to be a huge emphasis for us.”
The team’s starting safety, Harrison Smith, reiterated that the defense needs to improve during two-minute situations. He said that they need to work on getting lined up correctly, get their communication and adjustments down, and then have an understanding of everything going on around them. Everyone on the defense needs to know the situation they are in - the down and distance, the score, how much time is left, how many timeouts both teams have and knowing where on the field the opponent is trying to get to.
One thing that should help them out with that is that the defense is bringing back almost all the same players they had last season. That continuity really helps in the two-minute situations because everyone knows how each other tends to operate.
“That’s big because we all are kind of familiar with each other,” Smith said. “We know how each other kind of operate, so there are certain things you just pick up on playing with each other, building a chemistry. You can look at a guy sometimes and not even have to communicate because you already know he knows I know, so there’s just little things that always lets things run smoother.”
This past season the Denver Broncos proved that a team can do a lot in this league if they have a dominant defense. Their defense carried the team all through the regular season, the postseason and all the way to becoming Super Bowl champions.
Vikings defenders saw that and now they want to be able to do the same thing for their team, become a defense that can shut down anyone they go up against and put the team on their backs. They believe they can be just that.
“Like the saying goes, ‘defense wins championships.’ If you got a great front four, you got great linebackers, you’ve got a great secondary and they play together for four quarters you’re going to win a lot of games,” Griffen said. “And that’s what the Denver Broncos did. They played, they rushed, they covered, they tackled, they executed, they went out there with attitude and that’s what you need to win a championship.”
They all seem to know that they are a long way from that, though. Yes, the defense had a good season last year, but they weren’t perfect and they don’t get to pick up and start from where they left off. It is a new season, which means they have to start back at ground zero and build up from there.
Everyone will likely be able to pick things back up quicker since they are now entering into the third season under head coach Mike Zimmer and they have all worked together for awhile, but it is still going to be a long journey if they hope to make it to the top. But it sounds as though everyone is ready to give it a shot.
“You don’t get to start where you left off. You have to start kind of from the ground up every year,” Smith explained. “A lot of guys have things to build on, especially being around Zim for a few years now, but we still can’t get complacent and say, ‘We were pretty good last year, we’ll just get better from there.’ We’ve got to start from the ground up.”