They say stats are for losers, but for this "Reaction" I'm going to make reference to some stats that will prove why the Vikings defense has been so successful the last two games. The defense has definitely picked up the personality of coordinator Willie Shaw — a tough, hard-nosed approach that puts the priority on stopping the run first and hoping that the end result of the pass plays will not take away from their defensive attitude.
To the stats: The first-team defense on third-down situations in the past two games has allowed only three first downs out of the last 17 attempts. That means they've stopped the opposing teams 14 times. This is such an impressive stat that if they kept that pace throughout the NFL season it would put the biggest and most gorgeous Super Bowl ring you've ever seen on their hands.
Coach Shaw wants to be aggressive and under control, which to the mindset of a defensive lineman contradicts itself to a degree, but once the linemen understand the under-control aspect of Shaw's philosophy, they will grow by leaps and bounds. It's a maturing process for the defense, and I'll give you a couple of rather easy examples.
When a linebacker blitzes from the outside, the defensive end must stay in his lane, as well as the linebacker. That seems simple enough, but unless you've been in the situation you'll understand why it's easier to be a Monday morning quarterback than an NFL player. With each offensive play called, personnel, formation and motion dictates how the defensive line carries out the call from the sideline.
Here is the simplicity of it all: As the defensive end heads upfield toward the offensive tackle, the tackle might look like he's giving the end an open target to the outside for an easy sack, but the end must be under control as he has to know that a linebacker is coming from the outside. If the end takes what the offensive tackle is giving him, the defensive end will end up in the same lane as the linebacker, which creates a tremendous negative to the true defensive call.
It could be the same with the defensive tackles if they are running a stunt. If the center blocks back toward the stunting tackle, the stunt no longer should be executed and the other defensive tackle should fight to get back into his lane. In that case, it just happens that the offense made the right call against the stunt that the defense had called. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But remember, you've got to be aggressive and yet under control. It can be a rather simple execution when you get the maturity of a group playing together for more than just two or three preseason games, and I can see them getting better with each game.
As for individuals looking good and those who have competition biting at their heels, I start with rookie linebacker Nick Rogers. The Vikings have to find a place for him. With his awareness around the ball and with everything happening around him, he remains very, very consistent. He is going to move up the ladder. He has definitely shown his wares, and he will be a contributor on more than just special teams.
Did I say special teams? If I did, I want you to know that I'm a tad concerned about their productivity so far. The timing just doesn't seem to be there, and punter Kyle Richardson has his hands full with the competition coming from Nick Murphy. In the return game, Nick Davis has made a couple huge steps forward, and had the timing of the blocking been better on one of his kickoff returns he could have picked up an extra 20 yards. It will be interesting to watch the special teams this week, and if Doug Brien has another bad week, it would not surprise me at all if they called back future Hall of Famer Gary Anderson.
Lurtsema's Reaction: Defensive Stands
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