One reason the Vikings' defensive stock might be rising this year is the way they are attacking the quarterback. While the Vikings might not be blitzing as much as they were a year ago, their success ratio of either sacking the quarterback or hurrying the passer might be better.
That starts with picking your spots and being more belligerent.
"We're more aggressive with what we're doing," said Jim Panagos, assistant defensive line coach. "We're probably not blitzing as much as we did last year, but when we blitz we're much more successful because when we blitz, we blitz at the right times."
That starts with defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who is the team's fourth defensive coordinator in four years. In 2001, Emmitt Thomas ran the defense; in 2002, Willie Shaw did; last year, George O'Leary was the defensive coordinator. Cottrell took over this season.
Chris Hovan, Lance Johnstone and Brian Russell are the only three current Vikings defenders who have weathered the storms over the past four seasons.
Russell is impressed with Cottrell's timing of blitzes.
"I think [Cottrell] is really good about knowing about tendencies and blitzing at the right time, dogging at the right time," Russell said. "It's pointless just to throw the house at them every down if you know they're going to max protect and try to hitch deep. We're trying to attack protection schemes and things like that help us doggers, and it helps the secondary because we're not left out [alone]. It's been really positive."
Having a strong secondary enables the defense to take more chances. With Winfield and Brian Williams at the corners, and Russell and Corey Chavous, Cottrell has the luxury of blitzing often, if needed.
"As a linebacker we have to get there as quick as possible when we blitz — we have to go all-out," linebacker Dontarrious Thomas said. "It puts the pressure on our defensive backs, but you have to have confidence in them that they're going to get it done."
The risks are high, but so are the payoffs.
"Every play is a high-risk play," Chavous said. "You can't look at [blitzing] as a risk, but an opportunity to make a big play."
Opposing offenses are noticing.
"I see an aggressive defense, an attacking defense that does a variety of different things," said Giants quarterback Kurt Warner. "[The Vikings are] doing a little blitzing here and there with different guys, they throw the safeties into the mix. They have good playmakers back there with good players that play the ball well on the back end, which allows them to do some of those things."
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