Darren Sharper is one of the league's top interceptors, just not this season.
While the Vikings safety entered the season with 53 career interceptions, the most of any active player in the NFL, this year he has none through seven games. Is he frustrated by that fact?
"Extremely. Extremely. I keep saying don't force things and let things come to you, but things haven't come to me," Sharper said. "The main thing that's frustrating is because a lot of those times and what I've shown in the past is that when I do get my hands on the ball there might be a chance to score or even get good field position and that would help our team out. And I'm frustrated because of that, but I'm just not going to force things. They'll come."
Sharper is right about being able to score touchdowns off of interceptions. He is tied for fifth in NFL history with eight career interception returns for touchdowns. This year, the Vikings have only 2 yards off of four interception returns, with those picks coming from LB Ben Leber, CBs Antoine Winfield and Charles Gordon and S Tyrell Johnson.
At 32 years old, Sharper was asked if he sees things on film that a 27-year-old Sharper would have made.
"The 27-year-old Darren was playing a different style that would allow him to do things. But now what I'm doing is I'm playing within the defense and I'm going to continue to do that," he said. "I can't go out and risk certain things by things I might see or know. I'm going to play within the defense and, like I said, let the game come to me. That's what I'm asked to do and I'm going to go out there and do that. I'm not going to risk the integrity of our defense trying to do things on a personal level. That's not going to help us out."
Five years ago, Sharper was with the Green Bay Packers and intercepting five passes in 2003. In 2004, he had four interceptions before making the move across state lines and signing with Minnesota after refusing to accept a pay cut with the Packers, who eventually released him.
In his first season with the Vikings, he had nine interceptions, tying his career high from 2000.
The next year, the Vikings switched head coaches and defensive schemes, employing the Tampa-2 defensive principles under then-defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.
"You look at the nature of this defense, safeties don't get too many interceptions. You don't have too many guys that run the Tampa-2 defense that lead the league in picks. That's not a factor. But you see the Tampa-2 defensive style works. It is effective," Sharper said.
As a team, the Vikings have four interceptions. Of the other NFL teams that are usually credited with running the Tampa-2 as their base defense, Detroit has only one interception and Indianapolis has five, but Chicago and Tampa Bay, both Tampa-2 defenses, have 10 and 12 interceptions, respectively. The Vikings helped increase Chicago's interception total on Sunday when Gus Frerotte threw four interceptions.
The league average is 5.5 interceptions per team.
But Sharper maintains that he had more freedom under other defenses.
"I was able to read routes a little more, read quarterbacks, read the formations and stuff like that. That's what it was back then. There is some of that now. It's just different things that you do. Sometimes it's how the ball comes at you," he said. "Teams in that year (2005) and other years, you had more opportunities. I don't know if it's because of things that I've done in my career that might have teams not necessarily saying, 'OK, we're going to try this side of the field.' But I definitely have noticed because we'll be in coverages where it's the same coverage, same coverage on the other side. It could be because I'm playing beside Antoine (Winfield), too, because he's playing extremely well, lock-down corner. Teams might say, 'OK, they see me, they see Antoine.' The quarterback is saying, 'OK, I'm not going to necessarily go to that side.' That might be a part of it, too, and that might take away some of the opportunities. That could be part of it."
It's been nine straight games, dating back to December 2007, that Sharper has been without an interception. But he'd like to help the team win the turnover battle when he returns from his bye week to face the Houston Texans.
"They'll come," he said of the interceptions. "It has in the past and it will happen. The thing that will help it out, we need to find ways that will help out our turnover margin of getting interceptions and takeaways. We need to find ways to get up on teams and make them have to throw the ball and be able to force the issue a little more. That definitely will help out. And we'll do that. … The takeaway margin, if you're on the plus side of that, your chances of winning are a lot better."
Sharper ‘extremely' frustrated with no INTs
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