Notebook: Defense stepping up in preseason

The Vikings are well aware that offenses are pretty bland at this time of year, but so are the offenses other teams are facing in their preseason games. With that, the Vikings are leading the league in several statistical categories. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and a few players weighed in on the topic, especially the pass defense.

Vikings defensive players entered training camp proclaiming their desire to not only be the No. 1-ranked defense against the run – which they've done three years running – but also become the No. 1-ranked defense overall.

It's only the preseason – and only halfway through that – but so far so good.

The Vikings have given up only 220 yards on defense, 25 yards better than anyone else.

"Our secondary and our defense have been working hard this offseason and during training camp," cornerback Cedric Griffin said. "We're prepared, and the first two games went well for us, so (the third preseason game) is going to be like a dress rehearsal for the regular season so it should be a good game."

The yardage total has also translated into stinginess on the scoreboard, having given up only 16 points, also best in the league.

The main culprit last year in turning the top-ranked run defense into the sixth-ranked overall defense was the pass coverage. The Vikings ranked 17th in that category, giving up an average of 215.6 yards per game in the air.

This preseason, the defense is averaging 128.5 yards per game surrendered to opposing passing attacks.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin downplayed the significance of that, which in itself might be a sign of this defense's maturity. A few years of ago, it was looking for any sign of hope. These days, regular-season expectations are at a modern-day high.

"This is preseason, so a lot of guys are just working on things, just working on routes and the offense is not really attacking our personnel or attacking what they see out there," Griffin said. "It's just preseason and we haven't really looked at stats. We wouldn't know where that's at and we don't really care about that. When the regular comes and we're No. 1 in Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 10, then we'll be concerned about that."

On the flip side, the Vikings aren't showing many complex coverages, either, so the bland preseason showings go both ways.

"You can't look too much into that. It's going to be real vanilla, run a couple of coverages," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "I think we might game plan a little bit for this game, so we'll study a lot more film. But we just need to go out there and play well."

The key so far has been limiting the big plays. The defense has limited teams to 5.1 yards per pass play and the longest pass play it has given up has been 20 yards (they've allowed two of those). In fact, the Vikings and Baltimore Ravens are the only two teams to have given up only two passes of 20 yards or more.

Winfield said the key is limited the yards after catch.

"Hidden yardage – we gave up a lot of big plays last season, a lot of missed tackles, people getting out of their lanes," he said. "If we can correct those, we'll be a lot better defense."

Right now, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier believes the veteran status of his defense has put it ahead of schedule compared to the previous two years.

"It made a tremendous difference in the way we approach training camp from a teaching standpoint, the way we install everything," Frazier said of the defense being loaded with returning starters. "We still focus on the basics, but you know, there's a certain amount of recall from the guys that are returning to those positions. It's made my job a little easier as well as the other coaches."

TIMING ISSUE

Brett Favre was only 1-for-4 in his Vikings preseason debut, but receiver Bobby Wade said the miscues were just a matter of getting the receivers and the quarterback who was signed eight days ago on the same page.

"Just reading, and understanding a couple of the plays. They brought a couple different looks. Receivers and quarterback being on the same page, some looks that in preseason you're not necessarily prepared for," Wade said when asked about Favre's statistics. "In the regular season, (it's) something we'd probably game plan for and be a little more comfortable and understanding with it. But other than that, with the limited number of snaps, it was a good job just to even be able to put the uniform on and be able to take some snaps with the cadence without guys jumping offsides and all kinds of crazy stuff. So, with that, I think he's progressing, and it'll just get better every day."

Favre will get another chance on Monday night when the Vikings travel to play the Houston Texans for the third preseason game. He is scheduled to play at least the entire first half.

STADIUM POLLS

The Minnesota House of Representatives has put the Vikings stadium issue on its annual State Fair poll, according to the Minnesota Independent. The House of Representatives has had a poll pertaining to assisting professional sports teams as far back as 1997, when they posed this question: Should the state take an active role in preventing professional athletic teams from leaving Minnesota? At that time, 70 percent said no, 19.3 percent said yes if the cost to taxpayers is minimal, 5.7 percent said yes if the cost is moderate, and only 3 percent said yes if the cost is significant.

Last year, the question was phrased this way: Should public financing be used to help fund a new football stadium to house the Minnesota Vikings? The results weren't favorable for the Vikings. More than 81 percent of the more than 6,000 respondents said no, with 13 percent saying yes.


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