After the Detroit Lions passed for 393 gross yards on Sunday, it brought back shades of 2006 for many spectators. Last year, the Vikings finished tied for last in the NFL by allowing an average of 238 passing yards per game.
"This is the NFL. You always want to improve and tighten up our coverage in all aspects. But if a team is going to throw the ball 60-some times a game, we can't worry about the yardage," said safety Darren Sharper, referring to the Lions' 56 pass attempts on Sunday. "The main thing is to try to limit the amount of scores. That's an area we want to improve on. If they come out throwing the ball on every snap and we can keep them from getting in the end zone, it will be a victory for us."
The Lions rushed the ball only 21 times, but that unbalanced attack is nothing new for the Vikings defense. It got quite accustomed to that approach last year, when teams completed 59.3 percent of their passes against the Vikings for 4,015 gross yards passing.
The Lions were just the latest example of teams that want to spread out the Vikings with three- and four-receiver sets. In fact, the Lions might have the best group of receivers from top to bottom this year, and they have the "mad scientist" for an offensive coordinator.
"Mike Martz likes throw the football, but I don't know if he's had a game where he's thrown the ball close to 60 times," said Sharper, who did his part to stop the bleeding by ending two Lions drives with interceptions.
Sharper believes that eventually the Vikings will be able to show opposing teams that it is a dangerous proposition to continually try to pass against them. As always, the way to dissuade teams from attempting it too much is to put pressure on the quarterback.
Last year, the Vikings had a very average 30 sacks in 16 games. In their two games so far this season, they have come up with 10 sacks – with 8 ½ of them coming from the defensive linemen.
"We think we're going to get a lot more pressure on the quarterback. As you can see in the first two games, we're able to cause turnovers and also score on defense. So if a team wants to continue to throw the ball, that'll open up the floodgates for us to put pressure on their quarterback, maybe hitting their quarterback, knocking him around, having a chance to get hands on balls for interceptions and then having a chance to score on defense," Sharper said. "If that's the code on trying to attack us, we'll be ready for that all year long. We feel as though we'll see more game where teams will throw the ball over 40 times against us, so we have to be prepared for that."
The defense has scored three of the team's five touchdowns already this season, and Sharper's two interceptions, eight tackles and a forced fumble on Sunday put him among five players nominated for the NFC Defensive Player of Week (fans can vote for that on NFL.com until 3 p.m. Thursday).
NOT JUST AN EXCUSE
Sharper citing the number of times the Lions threw the ball against the Vikings might just look like an excuse to explain the 393 gross passing yards yielded by the defense, but, to his credit, he also said the 56 passes from Lions quarterbacks on Sunday made the Vikings' third-down defense look better than it might have been.
Against Atlanta in the season opener, the Vikings yielded first downs to the Falcons on 8 of their 16 (50 percent) third-down attempts. That improved to 4 of 13 (30.8 percent) against Detroit.
"That's one of our goals is to limit their third-down conversions. It got better this week, but you saw so many passes that a lot of times it might not get to third down, so that kind of can skew the numbers a little bit," Sharper said.
The Vikings have a goal of holding opponents to a third-down conversion percentage of 30 or less, Sharper said.
KEEPING THE SPIRITS UP
Several players said Monday that they didn't have to worry about encouraging Tarvaris Jackson too much during his four-interception performance on Sunday.
"He's got a good head on his shoulders. Everybody is going to have games like that. It certainly wasn't just his fault. We can obviously protect him a lot better. Guys can get open better. It's a whole offensive effort," center Matt Birk said.
Tackle Bryant McKinnie said the players still have faith in Jackson.
"I think we'll just take it as a learning experience, as we will from some of the mistakes we made during the course of the game," McKinnie said. "You know everything can't be just perfect from the whole year around. There are some things you go through, you bounce back and you learn from them."
Backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb did have one piece of advice for Jackson to help extend his career.
"Tarvaris is a big, strong kid. He's very athletic. But you've got those guys on the defensive side of the ball that when they get a free shot on the quarterback, they're going to hit you and they're going to hit you hard and they're going to try to hurt you. That's just the name of the game, so I told him, ‘You've got to get down, man. Don't be too prideful.' You've got to get down sometimes," Holcomb said. "I tried to tell J.P. (Losman, quarterback in Buffalo) that because the last couple years he would physically to run over people. … These guys (on defense) are trained to do that."
Birk said it's too early to panic and that he doesn't sense any players are frustrated with Jackson yet.
"I don't. … He's got a great demeanor, especially to play quarterback," Birk said. "We're only two games in. Last week, everyone was saying how good we are and this week everyone's down on us. That's life in the NFL. You've got to keep that in perspective. It's a long season."
Reporter one: "Haircut?"
Birk: "Back wax."
Reporter two: "Three-day process?"