Lurtsema's Reaction: 3-4 Preparation

The Vikings don't face a 3-4 defense too often, but an unlikely source helped prepare a young offensive line for the task. Also, find out why I think the Vikings' young defenders played more disciplined than the Texans and which veteran gets my kudos.

I don't think I could have written a script more exciting than the Minnesota Vikings' 34-28 overtime victory over the Houston Texans Sunday. Every National Football League team puts itself in negative situations, but the teams that are truly playoff contenders will rise to the occasion, regroup after many, many mistakes and still be able to come home with a victory.

That was the case with the Vikings as they traveled outside the comfort of the Metrodome and ventured outdoors in Houston. I had to laugh at the words of the maintenance people in Houston's Reliant Stadium, as they wanted the retractable roof open because they knew the Vikings had lost 17 of their last 18 outdoor games. And the kicker was the people down here like to have their stadium covered for some mysterious reason.

The Vikings were facing a number of adverse factors besides playing outdoors. They were battling injuries to starters at seemingly every position, and they were facing a difficult 3-4 defense. The Texans were able to occasionally pressure quarterback Daunte Culpepper, but the offensive line played well enough, picking up a lot of the different stunts that Houston's 3-4 defense presented. Talking with the offensive linemen, credit was given to defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell for helping them through the nuances and difficulties of the 3-4 alignment, as Cottrell constantly threw different looks at the offense during training camp.

Cory Withrow was one of those players filling in for an injured starter and was the line's signal-caller. He did a great job handling all of the different looks presented by Houston in his first start at center. Houston isn't a great football team, but these looks they give teams can be confusing. Another player fighting through that defense in his first start was rookie running back Mewelde Moore, who showed tremendous vision while constantly breaking arm tackles.

When teams play a lot of young ball players, as both Houston and the Vikings did, they are going to make their share of mistakes. An easy example of this is the No. 1 draft choice of the Texans, Jason Babin, who is a very good player. He got caught up in a rookie mistake in the second quarter, as he was trying to be so aggressive to the football that he did not complete his defensive responsibility. When Culpepper rolled to his right and faked a handoff to Randy Moss, coming in motion, had Babin held his responsibility and been as deep as the deepest back — especially inside the 10-yard line — he would have sacked Culpepper. Instead, Culpepper continued to roll out and threw a touchdown pass to Nate Burleson. The mistakes of youth weren't limited to the Texans linebackers, but young linebackers for the Vikings like Raonall Smith and Max Yates, who saw time at middle linebacker despite being promoted to the active roster only last week, had solid first efforts.

Being on the field the last two minutes of regulation and during the overtime, I was tickled to see a very happy Chris Hovan come off the field after his big overtime sack that forced a Texans punt. Hovan really picked up his game while seeing his reps limited, keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and using his hands very well. He actually had three or four quarterback hurries as well. If the veterans can continue to pick up their game and the rookies continue learning at their current pace, there won't be much to complain about in these road victories — outdoor road victories.



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