Lurtsema's Reaction: Reasons for Improvement

Former defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema analyzes why the Vikings are playing better, why the running game is starting to come around and which Vikings he likes for Pro Bowl consideration.

VU: Let's talk a bit about the running game. Mike Tice mentioned how pleased he was with the outside running game. Are you a little surprised that they've been able to at least get by – not that they've been terribly productive – with switching back and forth with two running backs as Mewelde Moore and Michael Bennett take turns getting injured?

The way the offensive schemes are, you really have to give Mike Tice credit because he's held them together. At the beginning of the year, I never would have thought about the offense or even had to worry about them, I was concerned about the defense. But what he's done, he's worked within the framework of what Brad Johnson can do. With the offensive line constantly switching, that's a very difficult thing to do. You will have difficulty as far as the running goes, especially up the middle from the standpoint of, if you have a quarterback that cannot go deep, you could a lot of times get eight in the box. As far as the blocking schemes go, that really jams things up in the middle. If you have the speed of a Mewelde or Michael, you can get outside. You have to give the backs credit on that.

VU: Tice said one of the reasons for the outside running success is that they have athletic guards that can pull and get outside. Now that they've got Anthony Herrera and Adam Goldberg and it seems like he's at least willing to stick with them to start out games, how important is the continuity of offensive linemen? When you look at the late 1990s, they had such a consistent starting lineup on the offensive line.

That's the most important thing you have on offense. The reason I can answer that so easily is that as defensive linemen, our whole job was to disrupt the offensive line. When we ran into certain blockings schemes, from the guards pulling or guards blocking down, the whole thing was to be disruptive – be aggressive, be disruptive. I heard that thousands and thousands of times. If you can cut off that pulling guard as a defensive end or a tackle can get through on a slant fast enough, to be able to grab a guard and be in their back pocket, then you're in great shape. Matt Birk would get out there and he would lead so many times and the center would actually lead on the sweeps. I think Melvin Fowler gets out there, but that's what Matt Birk did so well. They really missed him for a while.

VU: This is the last week of Pro Bowl voting. Who do you think at least deserves consideration and why?

The No. 1 person that I'd like to see make the Pro Bowl is Pat Williams, the defensive tackle acquired from Buffalo during the offseason. The thing with Pat is that he helps some of the younger defensive linemen understand the game and understand the length of the season and has really been disruptive like I just talked about. He's done that. He's been able to jump the count and he's been getting double-teamed, which helped Kevin Williams once he got in shape and everything. But Pat being disruptive and taking two people out has helped the other three linemen. His leadership has been spectacular. Sacks don't always show how well a player plays. He's disruptive, and disruptive is the word that we hear over and over again as a defensive lineman. On defense, Darren Sharper, the safety picked up from Green Bay, he should go to the Pro Bowl. It's funny that I'm mentioning the ones that could go to the Pro Bowl and I'm mentioning defense. We discussed early in the season that it would take six to eight games for the defense to really jell, which they are now, but when they came together I didn't think the record would be 2-5. That's probably the only two that I could really mention. With Chris Kluwe, he's have a Pro Bowl year, but you have to be established. But a lot of the people who vote will vote for directional kickers. A key figure that comes into the voter aspect of it is how many times he's inside the 20 and how good of a directional kicker is he. As a fan, I'd love to see him go and he's such a neat person to be around, but he has to establish himself.

VU: We've talked about turnovers, the poor start to the season and Brad Johnson leading them back, but when you look at it and see who they played in the first half of the season and who they've played on this winning streak, how legitimate do you believe this team really is?

The schedule, with the run they're on right now, is very favorable. They have three of their last four games at home, but schedules can be overrated. If you're good enough to make it, you're going to make it. The thing that they corrected, they got the turnovers they wanted. How many times do we hear that cliché that you want to be on the plus side of the turnover ratio and that's what wins the ball games. Brad Johnson really hasn't given opposing teams the chance to take over the football games. I think they are legitimate. I think if they would have had the same team they have now in the first five games, their record would be much better than what it was. The way this defensive is playing, there is no way they should ever come close to getting beat by 25 points.

VU: Considering their switch from the 4-3 defense to 3-4 and back to 4-3, has there really been much changing in how they approached teams now versus the beginning of the season when they were playing the 4-3. Or is it just as simple as the guys playing with each other longer and getting to know each other?

The simplification is it. When you go 3-4, that was because of the injuries to a degree, but they were playing people out of position. The 4-3 is what this team is made for. They've simplified the 4-3 and that's why they're playing tough. This is not a 3-4 club. They haven't got the horses up front. When you move Kevin Williams to end, he is a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, so you're taking a great player and you're putting him at a spot where he is less proficient. I could never understand that. But I have to give the coaches credit because they had so many injuries they didn't have the defensive linemen. But they have simplified it, and once it's simplified I see the defensive linemen now and they're getting off the ball and then reading their schemes, rather than reading their schemes and then getting off on the ball.

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 monthly column appears in the magazine.

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