Notebook: One Thing Left on Defense

Darren Sharper and Pat Williams could hardly be farther apart on the football field, but without any prodding both defenders said they wanted one more thing out of the Vikings defense. Plus, see what's been ailing the Lions defense, along with a handful of other notes and quotes from the week.

Pat Williams is a 6-foot-3 nose tackle who is generously listed at 317 pounds and probably closer to 340. He likes to talk about getting dirty in the trenches and dominating a shoving match with offensive linemen.

Darren Sharper is a 6-foot-2 safety listed at a fairly realistic 210 pounds. He likes to talk about defensive schemes and coverages.

But there is one thing Williams and Sharper each said they want to see their defense do more.

"The thing I want to see us do more of is create turnovers," Sharper said. "We're having a defense in which we're being stout against the run. We're not giving up the big plays in the passing game, but if there's one thing I want to see us to do more of, it is be a ball-hawking type of defense – create more turnovers.

"Playing this defense is fun. Whenever you slow teams down and get a lot of three-and-outs, get off the field on third down, it's always fun to play on that type of defense. But it's more fun when you're taking the ball away from teams."

In four games, the Vikings defense has intercepted only two passes and hasn't recovered either of the two fumbles it has forced. Minnesota is on pace for only eight interceptions this season.

Those are somewhat alarming statistics, considering that would be one-third of the interceptions the team had last year. Sharper alone had nine interceptions on his way to a Pro Bowl season in 2005.

"Now we're not making the plays we're supposed to make, so we've got to get better in that," Williams said. "First we've got to get some more sacks, create some more fumbles and cause some interceptions. Once we get to that stage, then I think we'll be great. Right now, we're just average to good. Once we start getting turnovers, then we'll be great."

So far, the Vikings have only six sacks; last year they produced 34. But the pressure is there. According to team statistics, the Vikings have 48 quarterback hurries in four games this season, on pace to exceed the 125 hurries they forced last year.

The loss of pass-rushing defensive end Erasmus James to a season-ending knee injury could hurt the Vikings – James had four sacks last year in limited action – and he is still third on the hurries list this year with seven, despite missing the last two-plus games.

But even without James, the Vikings would seem to have the talent to create more sacks and interceptions. They still have Kenechi Udeze, Darrion Scott and Ray Edwards at ends and Pat and Kevin Williams inside. On the back end, there isn't an obvious weakness with Sharper and Dwight Smith at safety and Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot at cornerback.

For Sharper, it's just a matter of time before the 10th-ranked defense in the league starts creating more turnovers.

"The more games we play on this defense, the more you're going to see us jell and play more dominating," he said. "We're ranked high, we're a good defense now – but we have our goal set on being a dominating defense."

Pat Williams agrees. He sees what the Chicago Bears are doing with their defense now after having a few years to know the intricacies, and he believes the Vikings can get to that level with more time and repetition spent in the Tampa-2 system, which was just employed in Minnesota and Detroit this off-season.

"I like Chicago's defense. They're getting after it right now. Chicago's got it down pat, but our defense is still learning," Williams said. "We've got it down, but we're still taking everything in right now. I think Detroit's still learning too because they have new coaches from Tampa.

"We try to make it happen, but (turnovers) always come in bunches."

NO SURPRISES

Linebacker Dontarrious Thomas was moved from backup middle linebacker to the starting strongside linebacker last Sunday when Ben Leber was unable to play because of a sprained knee.

But, despite never having played on the strong side in the pros before, Thomas said nothing surprised him against Buffalo.

"Everything that I got matched up on, I was expecting," he said. "We repped them in practice. Every situation we had out there, I was comfortable in."

Knowing the middle linebacker position meant Thomas was also expected to know what each of the other linebackers was doing, and that familiarity helped last week, he said.

Leber is expected to be back in the lineup against Detroit, but the challenge against Mike Martz's offense could be higher.

"He's a guy that likes to shake it up and shift it up. You've just got to study film and read your keys and let everything fall in place," Thomas said of Martz. "If you go out there lollygagging and don't play up to the standard that you're used to playing, those guys will definitely do some great things against you."

TROUBLE IN THE DEN

While the Lions offense has been clicking with Martz's passing game, where they rank seventh in the NFL, the running game ranks only 29th for a No. 16 ranking in overall offense.

"I've really been tickled with (the offense)," Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said. "I didn't know it would happen as fast as it is. I thought it would take the first quarter, four or five games, to really get the thing clicking. But the one thing I've been very impressed with is the first couple games everybody thought this thing isn't going to work or whatever, but on film you can see it. It's just a helmet in the wrong place here or an improper step over here, a mental error here or a penalty there. But the players are just staying on it and they can see it, and Coach Martz is just awesome at it."

However, the real trouble for the Lions has been their defense.

Marinelli, the former defensive line coach in Tampa Bay, hasn't had the success that the 10th-ranked defense in Minnesota has experienced.

"I think play-action is the biggest thing for us right now - run-pass keys. It's just reading the keys and getting back in your coverage," Marinelli said.

Marinelli said the defense took some time to start clicking in Tampa Bay as well.

"We started the year off 1-8. I'm not saying I'm interested in that," he joked, "but it took time. It's so detailed, the timing of it. They're close and we just have to keep pounding away at it."

One key for the Vikings offense will be getting rid of the ball quickly. The combination of a good play-action fake and a quick passing game has stifled the Lions' pass rush, Marinelli said.

The Lions and Vikings each have six sacks this season, but that's misleading when considering what has happened lately.

In their first game against Seattle, the Lions had five sacks, with defensive linemen James Hall and Shaun Rogers each getting two. Since then, the Lions have managed only one sack, and that came from linebacker Boss Bailey.

"They have gotten the ball out of their hand pretty quick. Teams have been very efficient and they have gotten an early lead and played with the lead. You can really change the tone of the game when you have the lead."

NOTABLE AND QUOTABLE

  • Former Lions running back Artose Pinner, now with the Vikings, said he hasn't seen any signs of Chester Taylor wearing down after four games 85 carries.

    "It's Week 5 and I don't sense that. I don't think he has any injuries or more than any other running back getting that many carries," Pinner said.

  • Marinelli on why the 0-4 Lions haven't turned things around yet under his more disciplined approach: "That's what people want is instant success. That's a part of the problem in our country, instant coffee. It just doesn't happen. You have to go out and work at it, and it's not like a light switch that you turn on and it just happens. It's about day in and day out work. It's about holding standards, explaining what standards are and not backing off on standards. If it was easy, everything would get turned around in 20 minutes."

  • Childress on defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who has two sacks and is fourth on the Vikings with 27 tackles: "I think he's got it cranked up pretty high right now. He's playing the three-technique in this offense like you'd expect to play, the same spot that Shaun Rogers plays. There are some pretty good three-techniques in this division, talking about Tommie Harris down at the Bears."

  • The Lions nearly beat the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, losing 9-6. Since then, however, the Detroit defense has given up 34, 31 and 41 points. So what's the difference between the opener and the last three weeks, according to cornerback Dre' Bly? "Basically that first game we seemed to play with more fire, and also we eliminated the big plays. You just hit on it. That's one of the reasons we didn't give up many points against the Seahawks, because we eliminated big plays. We disguised our coverages a lot and we eliminated the big plays. If you eliminate the big plays, you have a chance to win every week, and that's the one thing we haven't done since Seattle. The Bears were able to hit us for some big plays, and St. Louis and Green Bay. They were able to hit us with big plays down the field. If you give up big plays, normally it's going to be a long day for you."



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