Super Bowl reinforces Frazier's focus

Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier singled out his biggest area for improvement by the defense in 2009. The Super Bowl and a look at the Vikings' statistics from the last three seasons reinforce his line of thinking. See what he had to say and the numbers to support it inside.

When Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison intercepted a Kurt Warner pass at the goal line and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown with no time remaining in the first half of Super Bowl XLIII, many viewed it as a game-changing play.

At the time, the Steelers were ahead 10-7 and it looked like the Cardinals would at least get a field goal, if not a touchdown, on the last play of the first half. Harrison's incredible return may have been the difference between a Cardinals upset and the Steelers getting their sixth Super Bowl title with a 27-23 win.

In the process, former Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin became the second African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, joining another former Vikings defensive coordinator in Tony Dungy, and became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Two weeks earlier in Mobile, Ala., current Vikings defense coordinator Leslie Frazier, who took over for Tomlin in 2007 when the latter became head coach of the Steelers, was identifying the top area of improvement he'd like to see from his defense in 2009. His conclusion: scoring on defense.

"It's hard to put my finger on one thing, but I'd like to be able to score more on defense," Frazier told Viking Update. "We had been doing that well at one point and kind of fell off a little bit. This year, I'd like to be able to score more and continue to get more turnovers to put our offense on a short field. I'd like to be the No. 1 team in the league in turnovers on defense. If we can do that, it would make our defense better, make our team better. That to me is a big thing, just being more of a team that gets turnovers and score off of those turnovers and set up scores."

Previously, Vikings coach Brad Childress has cited statistics such as these: When a team has no turnovers, they win 80 percent of the time; or, when there is a turnover, the average starting field position is within one yard of midfield.

During the 2008 regular season, the Vikings finished with a minus-6 turnover ratio. They had 25 takeaways, 13 of which resulted in 75 points for the Vikings. But they turned the ball over 31 times, 15 of which resulted in 85 points for their opponents.

During their 26-14 loss to the Eagles, the Vikings had two turnovers (a fumble and an interception) that resulted in 10 points for Philadelphia. The Vikings didn't score any points off of their two playoff takeaways.

Still, Frazier wasn't disappointed with his players. In fact, he complimented them for overcoming adversity. Throughout the season, they dealt with the loss of E.J. Henderson for the final 12 games because of dislocated toes, the loss of Pat Williams for the final three games with a shoulder injury, saw Jared Allen play through the pain of a shoulder separation and sprained knee, and had the potential suspensions of Pat and Kevin Williams looming over them for much of the season.

"When you sit back and look at our system, our scheme, from this past season, we did a lot of good things. To overcome so much adversity over the course of the year, it just makes me so proud of those guys, just fighting through some of the things that happened," Frazier said.

The addition of Allen certainly had to help. The Pro Bowl defensive end led the team with 14.5 sacks despite his injuries, and the defense as a whole continued to increase its sack total during the Childress era that has featured the Tampa-2 defense. In 2006, they had 30 sacks, which increased to 38 in 2007 and 45 in 2008.

One might surmise that an increase in sacks, and therefore pressure, might increase the team's ability to create turnovers. While the opponent fumbles have increased from 25 in 2006 to 37 in 2007 and a then a slight reduction to 34 in 2008, the recovered fumbles have actually decreased from 15 to 16 to 13. Interceptions have taken the biggest hit, from 21 in 2006 to 15 in 2007 to 12 last year.

But there is a reason Frazier singled out scoring as a top area for improvement.

In 2006, the Vikings had seven touchdowns by returns (which included special-teams activities). Three of those were off interceptions. In 2007, that increased to nine touchdown returns, with six of them off interceptions. In 2008, the Vikings had four returns for touchdowns, but only two of them came on defense and none of them were off of interceptions. "It's a lot of things, but turnovers, it sometimes happens when you can get leads on people and you make the fourth quarter more what you want it to be," Frazier said. "When you play so many close games, it's a combination of things when it comes to turnovers. But I'm hoping that next year it will be a little bit better for us."

So is Childress.

"As I tell you again and again, turnovers is the No. 1 statistic in football," Childress said during the season.

And now turnovers that result in points are No. 1 on the Vikings' defensive wish list for 2009.


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