If Carolina Panthers quarterback Jack Delhomme looks at the Vikings' box score from last week he might be breathing an off-the-record sigh of relief.
Last week, Delhomme was sacked four times in Carolina's season-opening 21-6 loss at home to Atlanta. Last week, even though they beat Washington 19-16, the Vikings defensive line registered no sacks or no pressures against quarterback Mark Brunell, one of the NFL's elder statesman who hardly is considered fleet of foot.
But the Vikings have an explanation for the lack of pressure up front.
"In Washington, it was a lot of side-to-side stuff so things came out quick, and they max-protected a lot," said defensive end Erasmus James. "We still got some pressure, but when the passes get out quick it's hard to get in there and get a sack.
"When you face a good defensive line you see offenses do that more where they throw quick passes and do a lot of side-to-side stuff."
In the preseason, the Vikings defensive line was being heralded as much improved, on the cusp of climbing the NFL ladder to becoming one of the better front fours in the league. Of course, it wouldn't take much for them to improve.
The Vikings have not had a dominant front four since the 1990s, when John Randle and Henry Thomas were in the middle. But the potential the current defensive line possesses has some around the league suggesting they could make a mercurial rise this season. The Vikings have three first-round picks on the front line – James, Kenechi Udeze, and Kevin Williams. Rookie Ray Edwards also got off to a good start in preseason and can play both sides of the line.
But that hype was squashed Monday night when expectations collided with reality and the cold reality was little pressure at all on Brunell.
"It gets frustrating once in a while, but we know sacks are going to come," James said. "The new defense we brought in fits everyone perfect."
Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin called his defensive line's pressure Monday "adequate."
"We control the kind of pressure that we apply to the quarterback," Tomlin said. "Whether or not we sack the quarterback depends on a lot of variables. Whether or not he is willing to stand in there and challenge us downfield or things of that nature. I thought we were successful at pressuring the quarterback. It showed up on our ability to get off on third downs. Sacks will come."
Earlier this week Tomlin stressed the need for Edwards, the Vikings' fourth-round pick last April from Purdue, to focus on special teams. Edwards received playing time on the defensive line, but when pressed about his performance Tomlin deflected the focus to his rookie's play on special teams.
"We've challenged him this week to step up in a big way in the special teams game," Tomlin said. "If we're going to be good, we have to play a complete game. It is more than just playing defensive end. He's got to be a quality special teams player for us so that's what we're looking for him this week."
Defensive Line: Is the Pressure Coming?
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