So when the Vikings’ run defense didn’t look as sharp on Friday night in the preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, Joseph was a natural man to seek for reaction.
“We had some good things and we had some bad things. Right now, we just have to work on the little things,” Joseph said as the Vikings returned to practice this week. “I feel like this Thursday (against the Seattle Seahawks) is going to let us know where we’re at, and then the following week on Sunday is going to let us know where we’re at. Every week you want to get better. You don’t want to stay the same or get worse.”
As a team, the Bengals averaged only 3.2 yards on 28 carries, but in the limited action that comes in a preseason opener, starting RB Jeremy Hill averaged 5.3 yards on three carries. After one series, the Bengals starters on offense were pulled and some of the Vikings’ biggest defensive stars were, too. After two series on defense, yielding a combined 132 net yards, all of the Vikings’ expected starters were out.
“There was a couple things in there that we mis-fitted. We saw a couple different plays that we hadn’t seen,” defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer said. “The perimeter run plays a couple times that the corner jumped inside, the linebacker didn’t get to where he was going. It was all really correctable things.”
Joseph indicated the same thing. If one player is out of position, it can make the whole defense look bad.
“I feel like if everybody does their job, it helps everybody to make plays. When one guy messes up, it hurts everybody,” Joseph said. “It doesn’t matter if the linebackers play good and we play bad, we all play bad. The mentality we have to have is everybody doing their job and everybody playing together.”
Zimmer said he thought the defensive line did “really good.”
He pointed out the fourth-and-1 stop near the goal line on the Bengals’ second drive. Earlier, the Bengals ran the same play and gained 6 yards.
Joseph wouldn’t use the limited time that starters typically see early in the preseason as an excuse, but Friday night was the first game action for the Vikings this season and they don’t usually tackle to the ground in practice, even training camp practices, to avoid injuries.
“There’s only so much you can do in practice. You can’t really fully hit and stuff like that. It’s more mental in the week and then throughout the preseason games and then in the season it comes around and then they’re physical, it’ll be stuck into you. Right now we’re trying to get into that mentally,” Joseph said.
“If you’re in this league from five to 10 years, it’s repetition; it comes back. You’re trying to get in shape. You’re trying to recognize plays. That comes from watching film and that comes from watching your opponent. That takes a little time.”
Joseph wouldn’t say the run defense was the top priority to improve this year, but when the Vikings returned to Winter Park for practice on Sunday, they put in extra work in that facet of the game.
Zimmer admitted that the Vikings’ strength is in rushing the passer, but the Vikings defense wasn’t able to get into those situations often enough in the first two series because the Bengals were in good down-and-distance situations.
The Bengals’ first series that resulted in a missed field goal featured only one third down and the Vikings held. Their next drive feature four third-and-1 situations and the Bengals got a first down each time, running four times for 9 yards on those plays.
Zimmer blamed the earlier downs for putting the Vikings in bad third-down situations.
“You look at the plays the other night, because we were in an eight-man front, the first play they threw the smoke out there on Xavier (Rhodes), so it’s second-and-4, so now the offense has the advantage. We get them to second-and-12 and they throw a 4-yard hitch for 9 yards on Trae (Waynes) and it’ third-and-3,” Zimmer said. “That happened several times in the game, which didn’t allow us to get ahead on the count. That was the biggest thing, even when it’s second-and-7, I’ll live with that. We get them on the next play and we have a chance on third down. Most of the third downs the other night were third-and-1. Well down there in the red zone, we had third-and-7 and we played way off the guy and he catches an easy slant. They weren’t hard things to cover. I think that’s just understanding the game a little bit more. Sometimes we come out here in practice and say it’s third-and-7 and they catch a ball and it’s no big deal, it’s different in a ball game.”
The Vikings have plenty to improve upon before the regular season, but even if it was just one recurring theme, Joseph is sure they would be hearing about it.
“Zimmer is a hard man to please. You could have one thing wrong and we need to work. We want to get better,” Joseph said. “To get where we need to go we need to be better at the little things.”