Two weeks ago, Vikings defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell was faced with a challenging task. Defensive end Kenechi Udeze was out for the season. Lance Johnstone was nicked. Spencer Johnson was doubtful.
With his defensive linemen falling casualty to the injury bug on almost a game-to-game basis, Cottrell looked to his linebackers for strength. With the consultation of Foge Fazio, head coach Mike Tice, and other assistants, the Vikings implemented the 3-4 defense.
So far, it's been hard to argue with the results. The Vikings defense was stellar most of the game against Chicago and a week later played well enough to eke out a win against Green Bay.
But while the Vikings' defensive front seven continues to become more well-versed in both the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes as it prepares for Carolina, the defensive backs shrug their shoulders and go about business as usual.
"I don't think about it much," said cornerback Ralph Brown. "If I'm going to play a deep-third, I'll play a deep-third whether we're 3-4 or 4-3. If I'm going to play man-to-man, I'm going to play man-to-man. I think the 3-4 changes up the offensive blocking and the run scheme for the other team."
While the 3-4 affects the linemen's stunts and the linebackers responsibilities, it rarely forces members of the secondary to tweak their approach.
"It doesn't affect the defensive backs whether we're in a 3-4 or 4-3," Brown said.
Safety Ken Irvin, who occasionally fills in at cornerback as well, says his fellow defensive backs tackle the game plan the same regardless of which scheme the defense runs.
"It doesn't affect our mindset at all in the secondary," safety Ken Irvin said. "Our coverage responsibilities are the same. You can't play Cover-1 any different in a 4-3 or a 3-4. The coverages are the same. The only thing that changes for the safeties is if you're in a run front where you have to pick a certain gap."
That Cottrell's defense operates out of a 3-4 base should come as no surprise. Cottrell implemented the 3-4 in Buffalo for a while and has a history of coaching that defense. But the Vikings didn't choose the 3-4. Actually it chose them.
"Right now, with the injuries we have on the front line, the 3-4 suits our personnel," Irvin said. "Not to say we're going to run 3-4 this week or 4-3 or whatever, it depends on what we can do. But it's good to know we have the versatility to play both.
"It had a lot to do with injuries. But at the same time our job is to adjust and do what is called upon at the time. Everybody has handled the situation really well."
No one is complaining when they win.
"Honestly, I like whatever works," Brown said. "The players are enjoying it because it's working. It's allowing some other players to show their talents. Since it's working everyone's agreeing with it."
Defensive backs suggest a couple other theories, beside the implementation of the 3-4, as to why the team's defense is progressing.
With Week 8 just two days away, it's about time, players say, that the defensive overhaul in the offseason pays dividends. Remember, the Vikings defense entered the season with five new starters. It was supposed to be vastly improved.
That wasn't evident through the first four or five games.
"You're working with new people from the prior year," Brown said. "We're finally starting to work together and everyone's starting to have confidence in this defense and I think we can improve on that."
Confidence is the key.
"I think the last couple of games we weren't playing as a confident team," safety Darren Sharper said. "We're a talented team, but we weren't playing as a confident team. It takes a win (like against Green Bay) to build that confidence up. And hopefully, we can get out there and start winning."
3-4 vs. 4-3: Business as Usual for DBs
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