Pressure to Create Pressure?

The Vikings' defensive line is a major reason why the team has the league's best run defense, but they have also been one of the lowest-ranked defenses for sacking the quarterback. The defensive linemen say there are a couple of reasons for that.

After the Vikings held the Miami Dolphins to 4 yards rushing, defensive end Kenechi Udeze said the run defense can still get better, a bold statement considering that was a franchise record for both Minnesota's defense and Miami's offense.

But there is no question the Vikings pass rush can improve. It took a statistical review by Elias Sports Bureau to give the Vikings their only sack of the game, and Sunday's downer against the Dolphins has the Vikings going four games this season with one or fewer sacks.

"We've just got to play our assigned technique in coverage and as a front just get after the passer if they're going to sit back there and try to throw it all day," said defensive tackle Kevin Williams. "If they throw a quick one, turn and try to get a hit on the guy they throw it to. They're not giving us a whole lot of change to rush up front, but when they do we've got to make it pay off."

But if Williams – who leads the team with five sacks – is frustrated with the quick-release strategy of teams lately, imagine the anxiousness of defensive end Kenechi Udeze, who has been shut out of sacks this season.

"I've been pressing ever since Game 1, when I didn't get one," Udeze said with a smile. "But they're coming, and I can't get hooked up on statistics. I have to play this game the way it was intended to be played, and that's playing team ball and that's the only thing I can do right now. I don't care if I don't get a sack the whole year, as long as we start winning."

While most of the blame for four straight losses has fallen on an offense that has struggled to score points, the Vikings' pass defense is also ranked 26th, and a lack of sacks has contributed to that plummet in the rankings.

Udeze said the defense just needs to keep reading its keys in order to apply more pressure.

"Down and distance, tendencies, personnel, you kind of go off of that, but when the opportunity presents itself you've got to go out and make plays. You've got to get to the quarterback, you've got to harass him, you've got to be in his face all day," Udeze said.

Williams admitted Udeze might be getting frustrated with no sacks yet this season, especially after the defensive end was out to prove he was worthy of a first-round draft pick following the 2005 season in which he spent most of it on injured reserve.

"A little bit (frustrated) maybe, but he's a pro," Williams said of Udeze. "Everybody is going to get frustrated at times. We've just got to keep working and we'll keep encouraging him and the sacks will come."

Defensive end Darrion Scott said Udeze's personality will carry him through frustrating times.

"Kenechi's a strong person and he's not really going to show that, but I'm sure he's frustrated just like I'm frustrated with the past couple of weeks I haven't got a sack also," said Scott, who is second on the team with 3.5 sacks. "He hasn't got one yet, so, of course, I know he's frustrated, but he's not going to walk around with his head down. He's not that type of person. We've still got six games to play and you never know what could happen in these next six games. All those sacks could come on the back end of the season. I would say he's probably been frustrated a little bit, but every defensive lineman that doesn't have a sack in Week 11 is probably going be like, ‘When am I going to get a sack or when is it going to start happening.'"

As a whole, the defensive line has been frustrated with its lack of sacks. The Vikings rank 25th in the league in sacks per pass play, but there are several factors, the linemen say.

First, opponents are holding more offensive players back to pass protect, according to several defensive linemen, and the offensive strategy against the Vikings of late is to connect on quick passes.

But there is another contributing factor – the loss of top pass rusher Erasmus James, whose season ended in the second game when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

"I was thinking about that the other day. Erasmus, that's all he wanted to do," Scott said. "Actually, myself, I wanted to see him flourish this year as a pass rusher because he was doing pretty good. He didn't have any sacks, but I think as the season would have went on he would have got comfortable and got smarter as a player and developed into a smart player instead of just a good pass rusher. I think that – not hurt us – but gave us one less man to be able to bring it and add it to our depth chart. And statistically, I think he really would have helped out. He would have got it going. It was a loss, but I don't think it hurt us. But it was definitely a loss. If we had Erasmus, it would have helped us out a lot more."

Coaches weren't sure on Monday if they blitzed Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington more than they did other quarterbacks they faced recently, but Scott would rather not have to use a strategy of blitzing often to create pressure.

"I think we're close to being great, but we just have to put a couple more things together so (defensive coordinator) Mike Tomlin doesn't have to blitz and we feel we can still get there without the blitz," Scott said.

Logically, it's hard to put too much blame on a defensive line that has been part of the league's seventh-best defense so far this season, and their emphasis will always be to stop the run first.

"It's always like that," Udeze said. "Besides creating turnovers, I think that's the first thing that we try to do is stop the run. It's just something that we've been coached up to do well, and with the guys they brought in there with Pat and Kevin and Darrion and everyone else anchoring that line and the linebackers, we're doing a great job up to this point and there's a lot that we can do better, and I'm pretty sure that we'll be anxious and eager to get ready and get started again against the Cardinals."


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