Notebook: All About Defense

The Vikings defense had a good showing in Washington and are hoping to carry that momentum through Sunday's game against Carolina. See why E.J. Henderson thinks the 2006 version is ahead of where the 2005 defense was, and find out what Bryant McKinnie and Troy Williamson think of the defenses they've faced through the preseason and on Monday.

In the 2005 season opener, the Vikings defense gave up 345 yards – 199 passing and 146 rushing – to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the 2006 season opener, the Vikings defense gave up 266 yards – 163 passing and 103 rushing – to the Washington Redskins, a team that, like the Bucs, has a solid defense and running game but probably has a bit more potential for an explosive passing game than the Bucs had last year.

So is this year's defense, despite being a new scheme with several new components, ahead of where they were last year? Linebacker E.J. Henderson thinks so.

"I think the package is a little simpler, the menu that we've got is a little simpler and that allows guys to play a little faster," Henderson said. "We're just trying to keep it simple with the fundamentals and let the players make the plays."

A simpler defense concentrating on fundamentals, using a high energy level and lighter players have all been staple themes of the defense during the off-season and preseason. But Monday night on the road, playing on natural grass, was a big test for the Vikings, who used to struggle in those situations.

It wasn't like the defense was without flaws – they allowed the Redskins inside the red zone four times, but they gave up only one touchdown in those four times.

"I think we did well. I think we did a good job of, when things got down to it and bad we stayed together and made the plays that needed to be made," Henderson said.

The Vikings also appear to be getting some fortuitous injury news. While Minnesota has entered its first two games at nearly full strength, Washington's Clinton Portis was limited Monday night with a shoulder injury that will keep him out this week, and the Carolina Panthers, the Vikings' opponent today, will be without star wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Dan Morgan and will be shuffling their offensive line to account for injuries at left tackle and center, arguably the two most important positions on the offensive line.

"I think they're going to come in and try to run the ball and be fired up like a scalded dog after the loss that they had," Henderson said of Carolina. "We've got to come in and definitely remember that they're an NFC Championship-caliber type of team."

Henderson thinks Carolina will be more of an outside running team – starting with the inside run only to set up the edges, which could be good for Henderson's statistics.

Henderson, from his weakside position, tied for the team lead with seven tackles, but right with him were two defensive backs. Cornerback Antoine Winfield tied for the team lead with seven tackles and cornerback Fred Smoot had six.

"I think from game to game it will vary up (who has the most tackles)," Henderson said. "Antoine is always going to be up there because he's always got his face in there. From game to game, it's going to switch up. Different players are going to make different plays. This was an outside running game and the Mike (middle linebacker) is going to get back … different positions, different players, different games."

Last year, middle linebacker Sam Cowart led the team with 104 tackles, followed by Henderson's 102 and Winfield's 100.

So how does a 5-foot-9, 180-pound man always end up among the team lead in tackles?

"I just know that he has a mindset that he's not afraid to put his face in anything. He comes up very confident and usually if he hits you, you're going down," Henderson said of Winfield. "He plays with great leverage and a lot of times he's able to slip the blocks when the offensive linemen are coming around to get him."

But no matter who is the team leader or what offense the Vikings are going against, the basic beliefs of defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin remain the same.

"What we do fundamentally is going to be the same," Henderson said. "We want to run and hit, play fundamental ball, be fundamentally sound and tackle well."

THE OTHER SIDE

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have been facing and will continue to face some the best defenses in the league throughout the preseason and during the first part of their regular-season schedule.

After facing a bad Raiders defense from last year, one that ranked 27th in 2005, the Vikings faced Pittsburgh (fourth in 2005), Baltimore (fifth) and Dallas (10th) in the preseason.

"We're seeing a lot of the top defenses and a lot of 3-4 and stuff like that, and we're seeing them early," left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "Once you've seen it a couple times, you can react a little faster and we should be at that point at the end of the season."

The Vikings put up 309 total net yards against Washington's ninth-ranked defense from last year, despite averaging only 2.5 yards on 34 rushes.

Sunday, the Vikings face Carolina's third-ranked defense from last year.

"Both of them are great defenses," McKinnie said. "Both of them will come at you a lot."

"Coverage-wise, (Washington and Carolina are) probably not (similar) because they're more of a zone defense than Carolina," receiver Troy Williamson said of Washington.


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