Lurtsema's Reaction: Steady QB, Emerging D-Line

Three plays typified the awareness of Daunte Culpepper, who continues to amaze me. But while Culpepper has been a steady force all season long, the defensive line and linebackers are making plays they weren't in the past. This old NFL defensive lineman has examples of those as well.

During my postgame talk on WCCO radio with Steve Thompson, I was asked if I've seen a quarterback play as well as Daunte Culpepper is playing so far this season. I had an easy answer that almost killed the show by just saying "no." But then there is always more to the story with Culpepper.

The most impressive part of Culpepper's game is his cool awareness of what's happening on the field, as three examples will prove. In the beginning of the second quarter, Culpepper was intercepted on second-and-1 by LaMont Thompson, which was nullified because Culpepper knew that defensive end Carlos Hall was offside and the QB had a free opportunity to try for a long gain. Later on the same drive, Culpepper recognized that the Titans had 12 men on the field and quickly initiated the play, which looked to cause some confusion, but that wasn't the case. He knew he had another free play and wanted to make something of it. Instead, the Vikings took the penalty at the 1-yard line. Later in the game, when Culpepper was in the grasp of a defensive lineman and was being spun around, he threw left-handed blindly (or so it looked) behind his back to Jermaine Wiggins for a completion. His awareness of where everyone is on the field allowed him to do what most quarterbacks can't.

And how about the defense? It was the first time the Vikings held an opponent without a touchdown since 1998, during that great 15-1 season. The defense seemed to play with much more confidence, as they were executing their stunts to perfection.

When you watch the replay of Steve McNair getting hurt, you can see that all three linebackers were blitzing while the defensive linemen were running tackle stunts, where the tackle and defensive end exchange responsibilities. This loosened up Chris Hovan to take a good shot at McNair, along with this year's Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams. The end result was that McNair was out for the game after the first play of the second quarter.

While the Vikings had discipline on their defensive blitzes, they were also in the right position during stunts without a blitz. On another occasion, Williams on a pass rush started to get a little out of his lane and almost into the defensive end's rush area. He recognized that and came back to his inside, which took away the lane that backup quarterback Billy Volek wanted to use to throw a deep pass to a wide open Drew Bennett. Without being able to step up, Volek couldn't get enough distance on a pass that could have been a huge gain or even a touchdown. The end result was a big-time interception by Antoine Winfield. I had an opportunity after the interception to watch head coach Mike Tice turn into a cheerleader. It was fun to see Tice so excited, as he truly realizes what the defense has been through the last few weeks. In his own way, he let the defense know how much he was behind them.

He had even more opportunities to celebrate in this game. On the Vikings' second of three interceptions on the day, you could also tell how comfortable the linebackers are becoming on their defensive drops, as Raonall Smith was in the right position to make his first NFL interception.

Everything combined Sunday to look like a strong stepping stone for the Vikings defense. Even though it could be a huge step or just a small step, it could be the step they need to casually stroll through the NFC.

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