Lurtsema's Reaction: Testing The Defenders

While creating a winning atmosphere is still important in preseason, the coaches appeared willing to sacrifice a preseason game to find out which defenders can handle Willie Shaw's schemes.

Now let's put this puzzle together, the puzzle being the direction and improvement of the Minnesota Vikings defense. I'm a firm believer in trying to win every game you play — because winning is a habit, just like losing is a habit. Defensive coordinator Willie Shaw told the media that winning wasn't of the utmost in preseason action, and he basically said he wasn't upset with any of the players after Cleveland beat the Vikings 27-15. He also said the defense did well at times, but also played poorly on other occasions.

When a coach presents that type of attitude to the media after a loss, something is up. To allow an opening touchdown drive to the Browns' questionable offense — a drive that only took four plays, 2:05 off the clock and went 72 yards — and Shaw isn't upset, there is something we don't know. And that's why I'm trying to put together this puzzle.

During the first half, I don't believe there was a defensive call used more than once, as the Vikings even started out the first two plays with blitzes. The way I see it, I would hate to be the Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator for this upcoming game, because they haven't seen much film on the Vikings and, since it is not a vanilla look employed by Shaw, how much time will the Bills have to prepare for all the Vikings' defensive schemes?

With the defense so youthful and having so many new players, the coaches have to find out what the players can execute best, and the coaches are looking to determine exactly the strengths and weaknesses of each defender trying to make the roster and fight for a starting position. The players at times actually executed things to perfection, as was shown on a few short-yardage plays in this game. But with so many different defensive calls being thrown at them, there were times that they looked shaky and unsure of themselves and made far too many mental mistakes. Even when the defensive linemen had coverage responsibilities, I could tell by their stance that they would be dropping back.

When players can't disguise the defense and aren't confident, major problems develop. A player becomes a little less aggressive, putting himself in a very vulnerable position. When he is not sure of his responsibilities, it increases the offense's success rate, as a gap that is normally six inches wide will balloon into a foot or more. The sad part is that when things snowball like this and you don't have a comfort zone with a veteran club, missed tackles will stack up galore because hesitation causes missed tackles. Hesitation and missed tackles go hand in hand, and that was rather evident Saturday night.

The approach the coaches took for this game was one where they treated it like a meaningless preseason game. I can't believe I said that, and I can't believe what I'm about to say next: Winning was not the important thing in this first preseason game, but rather player improvement. To sacrifice this game to this degree will give the coaches tremendous knowledge about which players can perform in which defense with reckless and aggressive abandon. When the regular season starts, the players will have a greater chance to play as a unit, plus within their own personal knowledge base — so they aren't thinking, just reacting.

Pretty easy puzzle to put together … at least after talking to Shaw.

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