Defense Improves, But Questions Remain

The defense showed real signs of life in its second preseason game, but there were still a few plays that could concern Vikings fans.

While the Vikings first-team offense remained an impressive unit in action during the first half of Friday's win in Buffalo, the majority of the questions surrounding this team remain on defense … with a few concerns about the special teams.

In their first preseason game against Cleveland, the first-team defense allowed the Browns to march down the field and score a touchdown when rookie safety Willie Offord was burned by running back Jamel White. While there were no such egregious errors Friday against the Bills, the defense is far from settling in.

Defensive coordinator Willie Shaw called his unit a work in progress. Indeed. There were signs of marked improvement at times and signs of the same-old, same-old.

From the "We're making progress" department: In the opener vs. Cleveland, the Vikings got almost no pass rush -- the only sack was for zero yards on a scramble by Tim Couch. That changed Friday when Kenny Mixon and Talance Sawyer each got sacks on Drew Bledsoe.

And say what you want about the struggling first-team defense, but consider this: In two games, the opposing offenses have been just 1-of-10 on third-down conversions -- Cleveland was 0-for-5 and Buffalo was 1-for-5.

The tackling was also better, as the Vikings allowed only one rush of more than 10 yards. The defensive line made a number of decent short-yardage stands, including a game-saving goal-line stand in the final two minutes. In addition, the defensive line had a pleasant comeback story when Willie Howard returned to action, played well and recovered a fumble.

But there were also a few trouble spots, most notably the Bills' desire to pick on cornerback Eric Kelly. When Bledsoe was on the game, he went after Kelly on almost every deep pass route. The Vikings secondary had a few pass interference penalties, and the Bills picked up four first downs because of defensive penalties on the Vikings.

Early on, the hope is that this young defense will take the good with the bad and learn from every situation. Eventually, they are hoping that there will be far more good than bad, and there certainly appears to be no signs of shutting down the aggressive nature of Shaw. The defense continued to mount a high percentage of stunts and blitzes, which will lead to big plays for both the Vikings defense and the opposing offenses.

* In a troubling area, the Vikings special teams were iffy on kick coverage. Doug Brien had to make a TD-saving tackle to keep Buffalo from taking a kickoff the distance. Last week, both Brien and punter Kyle Richardson saved scores with last-line-of-resistence tackles.
* Brien is also only 1-for-4 in field goals in his first two preseason games. However, two of the misses came from 52 yards, and the third one is being blamed on a bad hold from Richardson.
* While the first round of roster cuts aren't mandatory until Aug. 27, a few injured players will have to be looking to return quickly and make their claim. Defensive lineman Winfield Garnett has missed significant time this preseason with a hamstring injury, as has linebacker Max Yates (shoulder). Receiver Cedric James is working through a hand injury, while guard Ed Ta'amu also missed the Buffalo game with a knee injury.
* Mike Tice said he made a mistake in letting Corbin Lacina play against Cleveland in the preseason opener. He didn't repeat it Friday. Lacina didn't play because of a knee injury. Everett Lindsay started in his place.
* With all the injury and holdout problems the Vikings are working through on the offensive line, they still allowed only one sack in the entire game against Buffalo.
* With Raonall Smith's shoulder injury now diagnosed as a shoulder sprain, Lemanski Hall is moving back over to the weak side as Smith's short-term replacement.

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