Lurtsema's Reaction: Fixing What Ails Them

Former NFL defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema gives his opinion on the mistakes the Vikings are making, the running back and quarterback situations and the issues facing the defense.

VU: Give us the biggest mistakes they made and what needs to be corrected before Sunday?

Well, it's always tough to get excited about the Minnesota Vikings when the punter has been the outstanding player in the first two games. They always say there is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in team because these players have got to take their responsibility and then limit it to their responsibility – they cannot try to cover up for somebody else's mistake. I think what happens, especially on defense, after you're out there for a while and you're not making any tackles, you think you're not involved in the game and you think you're not doing your job, so all of the sudden you start guessing on what play they're going to run. All of the sudden you start going away from keys, and that's when the play is run through your hole. With you changing your assignments or getting more involved in the game while trying to help somebody else out, it makes a total breakdown for the defense for that particular play. If it happens to be on a reverse, then a potential touchdown could happen or a third-down situation where they got the first down that they wouldn't have.

VU: Why do you think they had such good success real early on with the running game and then didn't later? I understand when you get as far behind as they did that they'll get away from the running game, but is there something more there?

The thing there is turnover, turnover, turnover. It was so bad. Even when they were down 27-0, I thought there was still not a reason to abandon the run. You've got to stay with the run. It started off very well. It's the same offense they've been running the last 10-15 years, so the players have got to believe in the offense itself. Now it's a matter of executing it. If you look at last week's games, of the top 13 individual rushers, 12 of their teams won. You've got to stay with it. You've got to give them confidence. Even with Michael Bennett in there or Mewelde Moore, give them 15 or 20 runs and see what happens. Sometimes you lose the flow and continuity of an offense by making too many changes. I know it's that way on defense because you get in a certain flow with your partner on defense, whether it's a defensive tackle or linebacker. You really get that feel for each other in a game and it's tough to substitute.

VU: Do they have to plain decide on one of those guy?

I would definitely decide on one right now. I'm sure there is an exception to the rule where two backs are alternating and successful. You hear all the time where teams are alternating quarterbacks – Ohio State tried it last week – and that's stupid. I say it's real stupid easily because I'm not talking against my beloved Minnesota Vikings, where I think one player should step up, try it for a game and stay with it. I personally don't think you can go in and out of a game and get a total flavor for the game.

VU: Do you have a strong feeling on which guy it should be?

I personally like Mewelde Moore. He's picking up the blitzes now. At first he had a little trouble with that, but now he's not making the mental mistakes. I like Mewelde. I think he's a little bigger, and I think sometimes he can find a seam and go with it, where a lot of times Michael Bennett will look more for a hole even though a seam might be a better place for a bigger gainer yard-wise. He'll turn to the hole rather than the seam. Most holes shut up so fast with corners coming up, there's somebody that's going to fill it.

VU: Do you buy into this national perspective that they're missing Randy Moss, or is it more Matt Birk or are they just plain out of sync?

Missing Randy Moss? No. Here he's the best receiver in the game and I'm saying no, but you watch the preseason with Daunte completing 85 percent of his passes and everything was in sync there. Now you have a rookie at offensive guard. They have great potential with him, but he's still a rookie and here David Dixon had his best season ever and they decided to let him retire. Dave is coaching out at Burnsville (High School) and he'd love to come back, but they seem to be happy enough with Marcus Johnson. So you've got a rookie there and then you've got Cory Withrow, who is doing everything he can, but he's no Matt Birk. It's no different than in my day if I went in there and played for Alan Page. I'm no Alan Page. Alan Page averaged 10 to 12 tackles a game – a game. Pat Williams had a great game last week and he had eight tackles. Alan Page averaged 12. On the first play of the game, Withrow got out and led the blocks and Michael Bennett picked up 9 yards. I thought, ‘Wow, here we go.' That helps Michael, because Michael's game is outside. If you go back to what player do I want, you have to determine what your offensive line blocks best for. Are they a good outside team? Can they get out there fast enough? They could with Birk. Can they with Cory and Johnson?

VU: At what point do you make a change at quarterback? If Daunte struggles again Sunday, do you pull him and then put him back as the starter again the following game or do you just ride this out for six games if he continues to struggle?

You make a change when Daunte is not reading right. They said the offensive line played much better in Cincinnati, but I still thought he was under a lot of heat. When Daunte's making the wrong the reads and the wrong calls, the mental part of it, then you pull him right away. You don't hesitate. You bring in Brad Johnson.

VU: You don't think that's happened already, or are you just saying you have to figure out your problems on the offensive line before you can judge him?

Yes. You take away your blood and guts, not having a running game, and it's amazing how a defensive line can play. Doug Sutherland, the old Purple People Eater, and I were just talking, and he was saying how much he just enjoyed putting his ears back and flying. Once you knew they were going to throw, it's over. There is nothing you can do to stop them, and that's a very, very tough situation for an offensive lineman. We've got our ears pinned back and we don't care if you're running. Sure, go ahead and run for 4 or 5 yards. They try to run a draw now and then to slow you down, but when you're a defensive lineman in that situation, you really don't care about the draw. If you happen to see it, you're going to react back to it, but that's where your old second instinct kicks in. You've got to read on the run, and if you're flying hard and you're a veteran, your second instinct kicks in and you have an opportunity to get back on that draw a lot quicker than if it were year two in the league as a defensive lineman.

VU: The defensive line had no sacks. Was it just that Carson Palmer is that good getting rid of the ball or are there still problems there?

The defensive line, on their rush, they're putting in a lot of great effort, and Pat Williams is playing real well. I'm real funny about playing a guy out of position. I think Kevin Williams is a natural, natural tackle. They started him at defensive end. They wanted a different look, and I believe they put Spencer Johnson at tackle and Pat was the nose tackle, but I'm a firm believer that some people are born to be a natural right tackle and some are born to be a left end. When Doug and I talked about it, he was a natural left tackle and hated defensive end. Chris Hovan, they moved him to defensive end and John Randle to defensive end – I laughed at those moves because neither of those guys could play a lick at defensive end. When you play defensive line, every play you get you're getting a feel for your opponent, setting him up for your next move. With the defense, you're going to work his outside, work his outside, and then finally you say, ‘OK, now I'm going to take it inside' so it's wide open for you to make a big play. I think you get a better feel at your natural position. That's like that Matt Mitrione (who was with the Vikings in training camp). He was such a natural right tackle, period. That was his position all day long, and then they took him out to the end to play. He tried hard, but people who don't play defensive line don't believe it, but when you're out at defensive end you're on an island – things are much slower. Everything has to come to you. You're on an island and you kind of watch things develop and it's slow motion. When you play defensive tackle, it's on you and over. It's quicker. You haven't got time to think. You're in the middle of the action. Some guys, their thought process makes it easier for them to play tackle. I liked tackle more because you didn't have to think as much. It was just reaction. So you take those things into consideration. I hate the three-man line, number one. I don't believe in it and never will believe in it, and then I think it's tough to play a guy out of his position. Don't play a guy to his weaknesses, play him to his strengths.

VU: Overall, what did you think of the defense against Cincinnati?

On defense, you can't afford to make a mistake. If you're going through a change, like they didn't get the call on that second play, you've got to be a fast enough thinker and quick enough thinker to make adjustments. If you've got just one call, you've got to jump on it now. They gave up over 500 yards. You can blame the line, you can blame the linebackers, or you can blame the defensive backs. That's exactly what I would do. I'd blame that whole unit, and I'd go after them with respect. Then the players have to give back their input. A lot of times, players, being brought up to respect authority, will just sit back and not say anything, but you have to have confidence. That's why I like a veteran team. I like someone like Fred Smoot talking and Darren Sharper talking because they're telling you what's going on and you can address it. Some players just won't say anything. That's why I love Jack Patera (the ex-Vikings and ex-Seahawks coach). Lord knows I made so many mistakes it was unbelievable, but he always knew why I made them and I didn't have to tell him. That made it easy on me.

VU: Considering what you're saying about the veterans, and we heard that Tampa Bay just got pressure up the middle and didn't do anything fancy and now we hear Cincinnati just played three coverages and yet they created seven turnovers, is there just too much complication in this Vikings defense?

With a defense, you can put in as much as you want, but you've got to know how much the players can take and how much they can absorb. My first three years, I played with 23 different defensive linemen during the regular seasons with the New York Giants. You just don't get a feel for them and you can't play well together. It's going to take a little bit of time for them to get adjusted to their teammates. That's why in the preaseason I would have played them more. They have to log some time together, even on their stunts, the linebacker stunts and the way they scrape. Last week against Tampa Bay they started off with Keith Newman scraping early in the game and it was beautiful. He played a great game, but they do need time together.

  • Bob Lurtsema was a 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his column appears in the magazine.

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