The Vikings defensive line created the most pressure they had this season to date against the Carolina Panthers and it resulted in the best defensive performance of the three-game season.
The Vikings' investment in Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen
looked like a pretty smart move Sunday.
Allen, signed to a six-year, $74.5 million contract after Minnesota sent three draft picks to Kansas City to acquire his rights, provided exactly what the Vikings were hoping to get in their 20-10 victory over Carolina.
He finished with a sack and three quarterback hurries and, just as importantly, commanded a double-team that enabled Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams
to get two sacks (he had three all of last year) and two hurries.
After being shutout in the Vikings' season-opening loss to Green Bay, Allen has two sacks and five hurries in the last two games. Minnesota had five sacks and seven hurries overall.
There is little doubt Allen will be a primary focus of the Tennessee Titans
on Sunday when they play host to the Vikings.
The type of pressure the front four generated against Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme was significant because it meant Minnesota did not have to rely on blitz packages to get pressure. This is key because while the Vikings have possessed the NFL's top run defense each of the past two seasons, the pass defense has been at the bottom of the league.
Part of the reason for this is because opposing quarterbacks have had the ability to get comfortable in the pocket when the Vikings don't send linebackers or defensive backs.
"A front four that can put pressure on a quarterback by themselves can make a good pass defense great," veteran safety Darren Sharper
said. "You know when the quarterback has to get rid of the football it changes your drops, it changes your instincts, your aggressiveness and breaking on routes and also reading routes. It can definitely change a whole dynamic of a pass defense."
Allen estimated that defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier called for only about five blitzes on Sunday but one proved crucial. Late in the second quarter, cornerback Antoine Winfield
blitzed from the left side and hit an unsuspecting Delhomme. The quarterback lost the ball and Winfield picked it up and went 19 yards for the touchdown.
While Winfield enjoyed the opportunity to make a big play, he also likes the idea of the front four getting most of the pressure.
"(That) helps a lot," Winfield said. "When we're just sending those front four and they are getting a lot of pressure, we can drop seven back in coverage. We're trying to buy them time to get to the quarterback. But when they are doing that, it's going to be tough to beat."
QB Gus Frerotte got his first start in place of the benched Tarvaris Jackson and proved to be a steadying influence. It appeared as if the Vikings were more comfortable opening up the playbook for the 37-year-old Frerotte. He completed 16 of 28 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown, an interception and three sacks. The pick came on a ball that Bernard Berrian tipped into the hands of Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble. It was a solid debut for Frerotte and he likely will get better as he becomes more used to the offensive system and personnel in Minnesota.
RB Adrian Peterson played despite having been limited the previous week in practice due to a hamstring injury. Peterson gained 77 yards on 17 carries, and while he did not have his usual burst to get by defenders, he did not look as if he was playing in pain. Peterson said he was fine afterward.
RB Chester Taylor was used more because of Adrian Peterson's injury and got his most rushing attempts (11) and yards (44). Taylor also caught three passes for 22 yards and provides an incredibly valuable safety net behind Peterson.
FB Thomas Tapeh, signed to a five-year, $6 million free-agent deal this offseason, was inactive for Sunday's game against Carolina. It's clear Naufahu Tahi has passed Tapeh on the depth chart. Part of the reason is because Tahi is thought to be a better special teams player.
TE Visanthe Shiancoe dropped a first-quarter pass against the Panthers after taking a big hit. It was the third time this season Shiancoe has dropped a pass, including one he lost in the end zone last week against the Colts. The big tight end did rebound to haul in a 34-yard touchdown. He caught the ball between the 20- and 15-yard line and went the rest of the way for the score. It was one of two passes Shiancoe caught in the victory.
WR Bernard Berrian played Sunday despite being limited during the week because the big toe on his right foot continues to give him problems. Berrian tied for the team lead with three catches for 79 yards, including a 48-yarder from Gus Frerotte that set up a touchdown. Berrian has yet to catch a touchdown pass this season.
WR Sidney Rice did not play Sunday because of a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It's not certain when he will be able to return.
S Madieu Williams, who has been out since early in training camp because of a neck injury, appears to be nearing a return although it probably will not come this Sunday at Tennessee. Williams, signed to a six-year, $33 million free-agent deal this offseason, has been replaced by rookie Tyrell Johnson.
DT Kevin Williams, who had three sacks all of last season, had two in the Vikings' victory over the Panthers. Williams hasn't finished a season with a double-digit sack total since he had 11.5 in 2004. He had 10.5 the season before as a rookie. Williams figures to be a major beneficiary of the fact that Pro Bowl RE Jared Allen figures to draw double teams all season.
LB E.J. Henderson, who didn't make the Pro Bowl last season despite having an excellent year, appears intent on making another bid to earn a spot on the NFC roster. Henderson was outstanding against the Panthers, finishing with 13 tackles, including three for loss, and a quarterback hurry.