Defenders Preach Their Plan

A weekend away from football didn't completely wash away the sting of a 1-3 start for Vikings players, but the analysis of the defensive players pointed to two things that would help.

As tackle Mike Rosenthal said Monday, the Vikings didn't do anything over the weekend to get a win, so the frustration of a 1-3 start hasn't been washed away completely.

Getting away from football for a weekend was theuraputic for the players, but they lost a half game in their quest for the NFC North division crown, with Detroit taking a one-game lead with a 2-2 record.

"We need to hit our stride, especially now with three of these next four games being divisional opponents," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said. "We are just one game behind first place, but we definitely need to start winning soon so that teams don't start getting ahead of us."

The Vikings' first challenge of the second quarter of their season will start with a trip to Chicago this Sunday, followed by hosting the Green Bay Packers, traveling to the Carolina Panthers and hosting the Detroit Lions.

With the next two, and three of the next four, contests being divisional games, this second quarter of the season takes on more meaning. But in order for the team to turn a losing record into a divisional title, the offense has to improve on it's minus-8 turnover differential, third-worst in the NFL, and the league's 30th-ranked defense needs two things, according to the players.

First, players have to start worrying about their assignments and execute the play that is called. Second, a few players confirmed that there might be too much in the defensive game plan from week to week, or at least too much change.

That has led to mental mistakes, missed alignments or missed assignments.

"If we were getting beat just by physical ability, then it would be something that we really have to worry about, but it's us making mistakes. Not that that's not a big problem, but it's something we can fix," Sharper said.

And the excuses about too many new players trying the mesh on defense don't wash anymore.

"If you're new and the guy beside you is new, you still have a certain job and you have to do certain things. Regardless of who is beside you, you still have to do your job," Sharper said.

Linebacker Keith Newman agrees.

"It basically boils down to the players. We have to do our job," Newman said. "It should take on added significance because the first-place team in our division, Detroit, is 2-2 and we have three division games coming up in our next four games. I think it's a critical stage of our season right now."

While hiring consultants might give ownership the feeling of helping out, the players are looking at themselves to solve the riddle that is the start of the Vikings' 2005 season.

"We've had some good game plans. Some games we were aggressive and some games we didn't look good on defense. It doesn't matter what the consultants add, or tell the coaches we need to take this out, it still comes down to the players executing on Sundays," Newman said.

Simplifying things on defense might help. Besides the five new starters on defense that the Vikings started the season with, they have also been forced to insert injury substitutions into the starting lineup.

Their most recent game, a 30-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, was a case in point. Starters like Sharper and Kenechi Udeze were held out because of injuries, and nickel contributors like cornerback Brian Williams and Lance Johnstone were also inactive while healing.

That led to Spencer Johnson starting for Udeze and Ken Irvin starting for Sharper. Ralph Brown was the nickel back in place of Williams, and rookie Erasmus James saw increased playing time in the absence of Johnstone and Udeze.

Johnson is a second-year player and James is a 2005 first-round draft pick trying to find his place on the team and in the league. Burdening a rookie with a heavy dose of changes from week-to-week might be a problem.

"(The playbook) changes a lot because you go from one week of different schemes and the next week you just have something totally different," James said. "That's one thing you've got to do is keep up on your playbook because every week there are so many new things added."

One of the things James expects defensive consultant Foge Fazio brings: "Limiting the defensive plays to maybe things we've ran in the past, change it up a little bit."


  • Cornerback Brian Williams isn't expected to play at Chicago as he recovers from a sprained left knee.

  • The injury status on wide receiver Nate Burleson wasn't great either. While his knee is doing better, head coach Mike Tice indicated that a shoulder injury could now hinder him. He wasn't at practice Monday.

  • Defensive end Lance Johnstone (pectoral muscle), running back Moe Williams (knee), quarterback Daunte Culpepper (knee) and safety Darren Sharper (knee) are all expected to play Sunday.

  • The Vikings' replacement for starting left end Kenechi Udeze (knee) will be Spencer Johnson if he's healthy enough to play. If not, Darrion Scott could move from right end to left end, with either Lance Johnstone or Erasmus James, both better pass rushers than run stoppers, playing right end.

  • Former Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter was at Winter Park Monday to interview players and Tice for a segment on HBO.

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