All through the offseason, the Minnesota Vikings defense talked about how they wanted to create more turnovers. It’s something they didn’t do a lot of in the first two years under head coach Mike Zimmer, and it was sort of the next progression as he continues to implement his defense.
“You can’t start with that, you got to start with the fundamental football and then kind of get to the next level,” safety Harrison Smith said. “We’re starting to do some of those things. Now we just got to really capitalize on that.”
The defense was able to capitalize on the opportunities presented to them during their Week 1 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Defensive end Danielle Hunter recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, while linebacker Eric Kendricks also found the end zone with a 77-yard interception return. Safety Andrew Sendejo was also able to recover a fumble against the Titans, but was unable to put six points on the board like his teammates did.
The Vikings’ Week 2 victory against the Green Bay Packers was a little bit of a different story. The defense still created multiple chances to turn the ball over, but they weren’t always able to come up with it.
It all started with the first play the Packers offense ran. Kendricks was able to force a fumble, which Sendejo recovered. He was then hit by the Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb before he could secure the ball, which led to him fumbling the ball and the Packers recovering it.
There was a similar play later in the first quarter in which Hunter hit quarterback Aaron Rodgers and stripped the ball out of his hand. Kendricks tried to pick it up, but wasn’t able to and it was recovered by one of the Packers’ offensive linemen.
The Vikings had another chance in the third quarter to recover a fumble when defensive end Everson Griffen knocked it out of Rodgers’ hands. The ball was bouncing around on the ground and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn tried to scoop it up and run with it, but the ball ended up slipping through his hands and the Packers recovered it once again.
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It wasn’t just fumbles the Vikings failed to capitalize on, though. Cornerback Terence Newman also dropped an interception that hit him right in the chest. The Packers were driving down the field and reached the red zone. Newman was able to jump a route and get his hands on the ball, but he wasn’t able to hang onto it. The Packers would end up scoring two plays later, cutting the Vikings’ lead to three points.
It’s not often that you see a team miss that many opportunities, but it’s still good that they were at least giving themselves a chance to make a play.
“Yeah, it was kind of strange,” Smith said when asked about all the missed opportunities. “A couple times the ball is on the ground, I know I’m going to watch the film and kind of wish I could have got my hands on a few more balls. The good thing is we’re running to the ball and maybe we’re not completing it, but we’re there. Now we just have to capitalize on it.”
Zimmer said he thinks some of the missed opportunities recovering fumbles were because of some carryover from the first game of the season. All the Vikings defenders saw Hunter scoop up a fumble and run it into the end zone for a touchdown, so maybe they wanted to do the same when they had the opportunity.
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There is a very fine line for when a player should try to scoop the ball up and run with it versus just falling on it, and Zimmer seems to be OK with his team trying to make a big play in some of those situations.
“Defensive players want to get it and score and when they’re open - when they have to opportunity in the open field - they should do that,” he explained. “I don’t think we were quite aware of the situation in the game. The first one that Sendejo picked up, he just lost it again, so I don’t think that was one. The one in the middle of the field, I thought Captain should’ve got on it. Being the situation we were at in the ball game.”
Players always have to take a risk when they go for a turnover, which is why it’s always important for them to know the situation they’re in before the snap. Where are they on the field? What’s the down-and-distance? What’s the score? How much time is left on the clock? Those are all important things that each player should be thinking about.
“You have to understand what’s going on around you and a lot of times when you scoop and score you have to make sure that there’s not a whole bunch of people around you to knock it out,” said defensive end Brian Robison. “But at the same time you always want to try to do a little bit extra. You don’t always want to just go for the sack. Sometimes it is trying to do a little extra to create a turnover, or something like that.”
The risks don’t always pan out for defenses, but when they do they can be game changers for their team.
Even though they missed on multiple opportunities, Vikings defenders were able to come up with a couple turnovers during the game. Robison was able to strip Rodgers late in the game and defensive tackle Tom Johnson recovered it. That play came in the fourth quarter when the Packers were driving down the field looking to take the lead.
Cornerback Trae Waynes was also able to intercept Rodgers with 1:50 left in the game, ultimately sealing the Vikings’ win.
The team is still learning when they should be taking the proper risks when creating these turnovers. But what is important right now is that they are making plays when they need to and giving themselves opportunities. If they continue to do that, then the turnovers should keep coming all season long.