Opponents Get Formula For Offensive Success

Vikings defensive linemen say that offenses have figured out a way to limit the effectiveness of the Vikings defense in the passing game.

Elias giveth and Elias taketh away.

While the Minnesota Vikings pass rush received credit for a sack in Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins, a change made by Elias Sport Bureau after reviewing a play that was originally ruled a rush for minus-7 yards by Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington, the run defense was on the short end of that ruling.

The Vikings had previously been credited with stopping the Dolphins' rushing attack for minus-3 yards, a feat that hadn't happened since 1961, but now the rush defense is credited to holding the Dolphins to plus-4 yards rushing, which is still a record for the Vikings and the Dolphins.

So the Vikings got one "team" sack credited to their defense, which only slightly helps to mask their paltry sack total in the last two games (it climbed to one after Elias' review). Three defensive linemen all agreed Monday that teams are keeping in additional blockers to help keep their quarterback upright and their passing game thriving.

"I think what teams are doing, they're definitely max (protecting) and mixing a little quick pass and getting a defensive line off-balance," said defensive end Darrion Scott. "That's the first thing teams do to defensive lines. Then when you do get a six- or seven-step drop, you're kind of surprised and it catches you off-guard, but that's your job. You have to read and react to everything you see, so it's no excuse. I still feel like with all the quick stuff and max protection that we get, there's always the one-on-ones somewhere to give somebody an opportunity to make a play. That's what we need to do."

Scott said teams started changing their offensive philosophy against the Vikings after Minnesota's last win, a 31-13 upset in Seattle.

"Teams are starting to max protect because of our two inside rushers (Pat and Kevin Williams) and everything, but we are getting single-man coverages and it's something we have to take advantage of," said defensive end Kenechi Udeze. "We have to win the one-on-one battles. That's something that we're probably going to have to start doing better, especially up front."

With the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL yielding only 59.6 yards per game on the ground and the Vikings having the 28th-ranked pass defense, it's no wonder opponents have generally abandoned the running game in hopes of winning with an unbalanced offense.

That strategy has worked for each of the Vikings' last four opponents. Still, Udeze doesn't think there is too much focus put on stopping the run.

"We play assignment-detail football," he said. "We do what we're supposed to do. We play the run. We rush the passer, and we contend the pass, so there's nothing to be said as far as doing our job and stopping the run. We just do what we're supposed to. We're proving ourselves right now as being one of the better rush defenses in the league."

Head coach Brad Childress was among the people asked Monday if the Vikings' success against the run is working against them as teams concentrate on beating the Vikings in the passing game.

"You can only do two things, run it or pass it. So you know when you force somebody, as they say, to be one-dimensional, I can't see the downside to that, I really can't," Childress said. "Everybody has a little different version of that open backfield or the empty sets. It just takes you a second to get up to speed with that. And throw in the no huddle on top of it. I think that they made some nice adjustments and obviously settled down."

After Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington completed 8 of 9 passes in their opening drive Sunday, the Vikings defense did have better success defending the pass. But it still ended up yielding 247 yards passing.

With four games this season in which they have one or no sacks, the pass rush is being looked at as a culprit.

"There's not a whole lot we can do. They aren't holding the ball very long anyway," said defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who leads the team with five sacks. "Unless we've got super-human strength or speed, we're not going to be able to get there regardless. We've just got to keep sawing the wood as (defensive line coach Karl) Dunbar says and things will pay off."

Said Scott: "It's our job to get to the quarterback, but when you sit there and watch film, you're going to see a lot of max protection, quick passing, just like the Patriots did. They came out with the quick passing and they did that a couple of times. We all saw that. I expect other teams to do that also. If an offense feels like it can keep our defense off-balance and move the ball just to get in field goal range or get the touchdown, then that's what they're going to keep doing."

Why not? It has yielded four straight victories for the opponents of the Vikings since the Patriots at least gave others a model to try to emulate.

But the Vikings don't appear ready to make major changes in defensive philosophy. They stand by the oft-referenced credo in the NFL – that stopping the run is the first thing defenses need to do.

"Smashing the run is something that our defense is bred to do," Scott said. "We just have the mentality that we react to it very well. We just have guys that are able to play the run pretty well. … We love smashing the run. It's funny because we never actually know what we're going to see from an offense – maybe they're going to run, but we really doubt it. Basically what they're going to do is come with some passes that we haven't seen, basically just come with a lot of looks that we haven't seen early in the game and hopefully get some quick points and rely on our defense to get a turnover or something like that."

But without a lot of turnovers or a lot of sacks – or much help from their own offense – the Vikings haven't been able to find a winning formula in the month of November, no matter how Elias Sport Bureau categorizes plays.

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