The Vikings are sporting the seventh-ranked defense in the league, and, according to the players, the front four deserves much of the credit.
"Our defense starts with the front four. The level they're playing at right now is just unbelievable," said safety Darren Sharper. "They're dominating and taking over the game, which they did (against the Lions). The domination they had was something I haven't seen before.
"I've been around some good defenses before, but how we're playing right now and if we continue to progress, and they way we're doing it, I think we're getting better week after week, so the sky's the limit. Our front four has the mentality that they want to dominate."
They have been especially good in stopping the run, where they rank fourth in the league in rushing yards allowed and sixth in rushing average given up.
That was never more obvious than it was against the Detroit Lions last weekend, who were held to 16 yards rushing on 11 attempts. Feature back Kevin Jones was limited to 6 yards on six attempts in the first half, and the Lions largely abandoned the running game after that. Quarterback Jon Kitna accounted for half of his team's rushing yards on a sneak for a touchdown.
Admittedly, the Lions' offensive line was working on vapors. They entered the game with two starters deactivated and lost one of their better linemen, guard Damien Woody, early in the game.
"It was downhill after that. They didn't have any communication on the line after Woody went down," said defensive tackle Pat Williams, who cautioned that despite Detroit's winless record the Vikings still could have lost. "It's the NFL. If you don't come to play, you lose."
Said defensive end Ray Edwards: "(Offensive line injuries are) always a factor because everybody on the team is very necessary. It definitely played a factor on their part because some guys weren't getting the reps in practice they needed."
Defensive end Kenechi Udeze agreed, but said the impressive defensive performance shouldn't be minimized too much just because it came against the Lions.
"The NFL is balanced talent-wise. It's always going to be a close game unless a team just gives up," Udeze said. "(The Lions) are going to be a good team, maybe not this year but in a couple of years, but I think it was a good gauge because we were down."
They were down 17-3 at the start of the fourth quarter before the offense scored its first touchdown of the game and the defense began to not only thwart the Lions' offensive effort, but it also began creating turnovers and touchdowns.
"Pat Williams and Kevin Williams were saying on the sidelines when we were down by two touchdowns that they were just going to take over the game by themselves. They did that," Sharper said.
Pat Williams started the onslaught with a sack and forced fumble, a loose ball that Ben Leber picked up at the goal line for the first defensive touchdown. Without a running game, Kitna felt the pressure of several defensive linemen throughout the fourth quarter. Chief among them was rookie defensive end Ray Edwards.
On the play that sealed the game, Edwards was pressuring Kitna again when the quarterback tried a desperation pass.
"He switched hands on me. He threw it with his left hand, I think, because I grabbed his right hand," Edwards said.
The result was an interception and 45-yard return for a touchdown for linebacker E.J. Henderson that sealed the 26-17 win.
With two tackles, a sack and two more quarterback hurries, Edwards is coming into his own as a pass rusher, who began the season backing up the since-injured Erasmus James and now is seeing extensive time on a rotational basis with Udeze and Darrion Scott.
"I think this was the best game I had so far, not including the preseason. I had a couple good games in preseason," Edwards said.
So far, Edwards' rise in playing time is mirroring the Vikings' increased pressure on the quarterback. In their first three games, the Vikings had a combined three sacks. In the last two games, they have produced eight sacks.
Despite a propensity to blitz more often than a normal Cover-2 defense might, the defensive line has 8.5 of the team's 11 sacks.
"We always get good pressure from our front four. I just think we showed them some different looks and it kind of threw them off," said cornerback Ronyell Whitaker. "We came in with some (Cover) 2, we came in with some blitzes; we mixed it up a lot with a lot going on."
That produced five sacks against Detroit, with all but one of them coming from the defensive line, and next weekend they will get a chance to do it all over again in Seattle, which ranks 25th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play.
Front Four Getting the Credit
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