After the preseason, cornerback Fred Smoot said the Vikings were using a "vanilla" defense to keep their regular-season defense a mystery. If that was the case, then it appears that defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell broke out the spice rack Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
The Vikings showed their most aggressive defense to date, but there is more in the reserve cupboard.
"It's just the tip of the iceberg. I think the big thing in all this is people are just getting a chance to watch us evolve and grow. I think the thing in Cincinnati was we didn't have our repertoire because coach feels like we should grow at a certain speed and make sure everything is right," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "Sooner or later, we're going to hit the stride when we need to hit it instead of blooming early and dying out late."
Smoot is one of the keys to a risk-taking defense. A free-agent addition in March, Smoot has gained the confidence of coaches that they can leave him in man coverage and bring the pressure from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs.
Sunday against the Bengals, Smoot defensed four passes, displaying his knack for the knockdown. He leads the team with six passes defensed.
"We just made it a point as a secondary that we were not going to let somebody call us out as a secondary," cornerback Ralph Brown said. "We were going to be aggressive and make our plays and get the monkey off our back from the first two games."
The Vikings surrendered only 296 yards of offense to the Saints and registered three sacks. They did, however, force Aaron Brooks to feel the pressure many more times. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams was credited with five quarterback hurries and linebacker Keith Newman had two.
The result was only 182 net yads passing for Brooks, but the Vikings realize they have to be wise about the amount of blitzing they do.
"I think that we have two great corners," Tice said of Smoot and Antoine Winfield, who had one of the Vikings' two interceptions against the Saints. "I think that they need to understand that when you have that, you can be a little more risky. I still as a line coach have always professed that if they want to dog (blitz) us, they are going to pay the price. I know that if we get too dog happy we are going to end up paying the price here or there.
"Over time, you can't dog every down and expect that you are going to hold up. There are just too many weaknesses. What people don't understand is that there are too many weaknesses when you dog, too many holes in the defense. For the offense to find those holes, in every single coverage that was ever invented there was a hole. And when you dog, you create more holes."
Those holes may already be there with a defensive backfield that is thinning rapidly. Safety Willie Offord is out for the season with a torn ACL, safety Darren Sharper is uncertain if he'll play Sunday because of a knee injury that held him out against New Orleans, and nickel back Brian Williams' status is also up in the air with another knee sprain.
Brown will likely be getting a lot of work against Atlanta, but he says his role was significant against New Orleans as well. Brown said he was playing more of the nickel back role anyway, with Williams playing on the outside more as the Vikings used a dime defense whenever the nickel defense would have normally been employed.
"I think Tice put together a strong secondary, so if anybody goes down we have some good backups to replace them," Brown said. "If one of those guys goes down, we can't let that change our personality. If it does, that means we're scared and we don't have trust in our backups."
And it's tough to be scared and spicy aggressive at the same time.
Aggressive Defense Working For Vikings
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