Quarterly Breakdown Shows Defense's Progress

The Vikings will have a whole new system of defense in 2006, but taking the 2005 defense by quarters shows just how much the defense improved from its rocky start. We break it down by four-game stretches and by the team's 2-5 start and 7-2 finish, showing a vast difference in defense and the personnel changes that went along with that.

In discussions surrounding the 2005 Vikings, the prevailing wisdom is that the defense took most of the first half of the season to really jell, becoming part of the reason for the lost season.

How true is that thinking? The stats prove that sentiment.

In the most-referenced NFL defensive statistic—total yards surrendered—the blanket statement that the Vikings defense improved in the second half is a completely accurate assessment. Total yards is the statistic used in ranking NFL defenses, and the Vikings dug themselves an early hole that negatively skewed their rankings the rest of the season.

In the first four games of 2005, the defense yielded a combined 1,513 yards to Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Atlanta—a 378.3-yard average per game. It was one of the main reasons they went 1-3 to start the season. A 500-yard output by the Vikings offense helped them to beat the hurricane-weary Saints.

In the second quarter of the season, the defense began to jell despite the coaching staff temporarily changing to a base 3-4 scheme because of a lack of healthy defensive linemen. Linebacker Keith Newman replaced Napoleon Harris in the lineup and remained a starter until he was injured in December.

It all meant an improvement in total yards surrendered in the next four games, 1,304 yards for a 326-yard average, an improvement of 52 yards per game over the first quarter of the season. Finishing that portion of the schedule with a 2-2 record allowed the Vikings to improve their record slightly, to 3-5 by the midpoint of the season.

But the second half of the season is when the defense really started to come into its own, whether that was because of a softer schedule or because the defenders were beginning to understand each other and the defense better. The third quarter of the season, when the Vikings faced the New York Giants, Green Bay, Cleveland and Detroit, was their best quarter of the season.

Despite giving up 405 yards of offense to the Giants, the Vikings rebounded to give up less than 265 yards per game in each of their next three contests. The four-game winning stretch netted 1,126 yards of offense for opposing teams, a 281.5-yard average.

While it was the offense that struggled in the final quarter of the season, the defense held its own. Against St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago, the Vikings defense gave up a combined 1,236 yards for a 309-yard average. For the final three games of the season, the difference in the starting lineup was linebacker Raonall Smith replacing the injured Newman.

In the second half of the season, when the Vikings gave up 2,362 yards for a 295.3-yard average, there were a few changes among the starters. It was in that ninth game of the season against the New York Giants when Darrion Scott moved from right defensive end to left end and Erasmus James became a full-time starter at right end. It was also in that ninth game of the season when Brian Williams became the full-time starter at right cornerback, replacing the injured Fred Smoot.

Breaking it down into the streaky season that was, the defense gave up an average of 361.1 yards during the team's 2-5 start to the 2005 season. During its 7-2 run to finish the season, the defense yielded a much-improved 294.6 yards per game.

The Vikings finished with the 21st-ranked defense in the NFL, 19th against the rush and 22nd against the pass. Had their final nine-game average been the norm for the entire season, their 294.6-yard average in that span would have placed them as the NFL's eighth-ranked defense … and likely would have given them the extra win they needed to gain entrance into the playoffs.

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