There was a night and day difference between the performances by the Minnesota Vikings’ defense in the first and second halves of Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans. They didn’t necessarily play bad in the first half, but they allowed 194 yards of offense, 10 points and just did not look comfortable in what they were doing.
They went into the locker room at halftime, changed how they wanted to attack the Titans and emerged a different team. They allowed just 141 yards of offense in the second half, which included just 16 rushing yards. The Titans did score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings were able to deny the 2-point conversion.
What may even be more impressive than what they stopped the Titans from doing (rushing effectively) is what they were able to do themselves. Linebacker Eric Kendricks recorded a 77-yard pick-6, defensive end Danielle Hunter scooped up a fumble and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown and safety Andrew Sendejo recovered a fumble on the Titans’ next drive. Both Linval Joseph and Hunter were also able to sack Marcus Mariota in the second half.
After the game, head coach Mike Zimmer was asked about the change in the second half and said they just returned to their basics. He went into more details on Monday, saying that he may have been too aggressive with his play calling in the first half.
“I was extremely aggressive, and sometimes we were – what’s the word I’m looking for? When they’re giving you a lot of complicated shifts and motions and movements, a shift and a motion and then a play that’s going back, two guys running this way and one guy running that way, the more you add, the more complicated it gets,” he explained. “So, it’s no different. I was giving our guys a lot of calls the first half.”
Defensive end Everson Griffen echoed his head coach’s statement in the locker room on Monday, saying that the success in the second half was because the defense went back to the basics. The Titans were having some success against them in the first half, but they stayed calm, never stressed out and were really able to turn things around.
He said that one of the problems they had were due to a lot of “trickery plays” in the first half. They were doing a lot of motioning and lining up in formations they hadn’t really seen before, so the Vikings were trying to match that with some trickery of their own.
They quickly realized that wasn’t the answer, though, and went back to playing their style of football.
“Trickery with trickery equals too much trickery,” Griffen said, drawing laughter from the surrounding crowd. “So we just got to go back to the basics and that’s what we did. It helped us tremendously.”
The Vikings defense continues to be the strength of the team as they carried the offense to a Week 1 victory over the Titans. They will likely have to put up another good performance if they hope to beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, but you can be sure there won’t be much trickery in that game and that they will continue to stick to their style.