Notebook: Pass Defense Remains a Sore Spot

The Vikings have the top-ranked run defense and the worst-ranked pass defense in the league, the latter being a source of frustration for defenders who strive to explain it. Plus, the Vikings are hoping for an upset of the Giants that would give them a shot of confidence.

While the Vikings continue to take pride in their top-ranked rush defense, there isn't a defender in the locker room who doesn't feel a sense of frustration when the pass defense is mentioned.

The Vikings are ranked dead last in the NFL in yards surrendered in the passing game.

"That's extremely disappointing to us. I wish I could give you an answer, but I can't," linebacker Ben Leber said. "Everything works together. We need the rush, we need the coverage and we say these things every week, but nothing seems to be getting done. We're more interested in keeping points off the board. We've been able to bend it sometimes and not break, so that's important. If they can drive the ball all the way down the field and holding them to three and our offense scores, that's all that matter."

The Vikings do rank 13th in points given up per game, so Leber's assessment is right on that topic.

Safety Darren Sharper said the Vikings take an overall view of their defense, but he sees two main reasons for the poor showing in the pass defense.

"We try to look at it as a collective thing, but you can say the reason is one of two things. One reason is because of the fact that other teams are throwing so much against us. We have the highest number of pass attempts against our defense than anybody else in the NFL," Sharper told New York reporters on Wednesday. "But also on the other side, we need to be a little tighter in our coverage, which will limit the amount of passes that we get, and also the amount of yards they get on us. But teams have been able to try and throw the ball and they have had time to throw it sometimes. And we haven't been as stout as we would like against the pass. But it is probably a combination of those two factors."

The Vikings are 26th in the league in the number of first downs they have allowed their opponents, and staying on the field for another set of downs will never help the pass defense improve in the standings.

Players have been preaching the dual aspect of rush and coverage week after week, and defensive end Ray Edwards accepts the fact that the pass rush hasn't been what it needs to be. The team ranks 23rd in the number of sacks they gotten per pass play.

Asked what they need to do to improve the pass defense, Edwards was blunt. "Me doing my job and getting more pressure on the quarterback. I'm doing OK. I've got a lot of pressure, but I just need to get there more often and take the stress off the guys. You can't cover people forever, so that's on us," he said.

Some observers have suggested that the Vikings may not be mixing up their defenses enough, but Leber said the more pertinent issue could be in better disguising what they are doing.

"I think we've done a pretty good job lately working in some fire zone and blitzes and going man to man and still going back to our base Cover-2. Most importantly, we need to do a better job of disguising some of our other looks out of Cover-2 and always kind of keeping that Cover-2 look," he said.

Ever since the Patriots spread out the Vikings last season and dared them to stop their passing game, teams with moderately successful quarterbacks have adopted that philosophy. This year, only the Atlanta Falcons (169 yards), the Kansas City Chiefs (201 yards) and the San Diego Chargers (201 yards) have failed to reach the 300-yard passing mark against the Vikings. Those lackluster performances came from Joey Harrington, Damon Huard and Philip Rivers, respectively.

"A lot of teams, the way they have tried to attack us has been spreading the field out and getting rid of the football pretty quickly. So that is going to take down some of your sack numbers. But I think, also, we need to find ways to get to the quarterback more," Sharper said. "Our up-front four has done an okay job getting to the quarterback. But we always want to try to get better at doing better. And I thought we were going to improve week in and week out. But having the low sack numbers, I think that has to do with both the opposing offenses letting the ball go pretty quickly, but also we need to find ways to get after the quarterback a little bit more aggressively."

That may be difficult to do against the Giants. While New York leads the league with 34 sacks from its defense, it also has allowed only 16 sacks on offense all season. And the Vikings may not be able to rely on Giants quarterback Eli Manning to help them out like he did in their meeting in New York in 2005, when Sharper provided a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown that was part of the first time in league history that a team had a punt return, kickoff return and interception return all go for touchdowns in the same game.

"I think (Manning) has matured enough now that you can't just sic the dogs on him and wait for him to make a mistake," Leber said. "He can hurt you now. It's not like we're playing a young guy who's one or two years in the league."

Vikings coach Brad Childress said he is looking to correct the passing game on both sides of the football for his team.

"I have looked at it on both sides of the football, the huge disparity between the run and pass defense, and run and pass offense – and we are just flailing away trying to find ways to bring us off the bottom of the pile in both," Childress said. "It is hard to be one-dimensional on either side of the football because it is professional football and, again, we are just rolling with a couple things schematically and trying to improve each week."

The Vikings likely will have to try to improve defensively Sunday without their most experienced cornerback, Antoine Winfield, in the starting lineup. Winfield, who has been battling a hamstring injury, is listed as doubtful and hasn't practiced all week despite saying on Monday that he thought he'd "definitely" be able to play more than a half, the amount of time he lasted on the field last week against the Oakland Raiders before replacing his helmet with a baseball cap on the sidelines.

"It seems like every week, someone's throwing for over 300 on us. You really can't say it's making plays all the time. You can't use that excuse every week," Winfield said. "It's a combination of everything – the rush, the coverage, us in the back end making plays on the ball when we've had opportunities. … Those are the things, not giving up the big gains, the deep balls and getting off on third downs."

The Vikings have had a number of big catches made against them despite fairly solid coverage on those occasions. In the first quarter on last Sunday's game, it was wide receiver Ronald Curry making a 46-yard catch against Cedric Griffin, who was close on the play but didn't appear to locate the ball. In the second quarter, Curry went deep against Winfield, and safety Darren Sharper bracketed Curry with Winfield on the other side. Curry, Sharper and Winfield all leapt for the pass, with Sharper deflecting it, Curry catching it and Winfield pulling Curry's helmet off on the way down.

"Me and Sharp were on the sidelines laughing about that, like, How in the hell did he catch that ball?" Winfield said.

It set up the Raiders' only touchdown o the game, and Curry said it was even better than his signature catch – a 6-yard, one-handed leaping catch in a Denver snowstorm from Kerry Collins in 2004.

"I think the catch against Sharper was harder because people were around me," the receiver said. "In Denver, I made a play on the ball and it basically stuck to my hand. I think this took more. I had to find the ball, I had to jump. Sharper played the interception; he thought he had it. Then he kind of got lazy and I took it out of his hands."


Edwards said he has studied the moves of Giants defensive end in the past to try to improve his own pass-rush moves.

"Strahan is one of the guys that is one of the most prolific defensive ends in this league," Edwards said. "For the past 14 years, he's been known to have double-digit sacks, so I definitely try to learn things from him to boost my sack total up. He's definitely a strong guy, similar to Reggie White. He used the hump move a lot, just studying that, how he executes that against offensive tackles."


Several Vikings weighed in this week on what a win against the Giants would mean.

"I feel that we need to win the rest of our games and finish out this season 10-6 and we'll get to where we want to go. Every win counts," said Visanthe Shiancoe, a tight end with the Vikings who played for the Giants in his first four NFL seasons. "We've got to finish out, finish strong. The second half of the season, this is where champions are built."

Sharper said the quality of the opponent helps to raise the importance of the game.

"This game is probably one of the most physical games in our season because of the fact that you are playing an NFC opponent and also winning a game gets you closer to the playoffs," Sharper said. "So we still feel like we have a shot, but it all starts this week. We have to turn straight on the Giants and go there and play in a tough environment. But it does have to come together and we need to find a way to continue to win and get some momentum that is going to allow us to hopefully be in the picture at the end of the year."

Linebacker Ben Leber said a win against the 7-3 Giants would help put a swagger in the step of the 4-6 Vikings, who haven't won back-to-back games since October 2006.

"I think it would be huge for the morale and the confidence and develop a little bit of swagger. All the good teams have a little bit of swagger about themselves and I think that's something we need to get around here," Leber said.

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