Vikings want to pressure young Stafford

The Vikings see the physical gifts that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has, but they are hoping to pressure and confuse him early in his NFL life, before the mental part of his game catches up with the physical part. See what the defenders had to say about the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.

The Vikings defense helped the team win its regular-season opener last Sunday by humbling quarterback Brady Quinn in the second half to break a close game wide open. Quinn, who was making his fourth NFL start, was pressured throughout the second half and committed the turnovers that helped turn a halftime deficit into a fourth-quarter blowout.

This Sunday, the Vikings face the Detroit Lions and rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford. Making just his second NFL and coming off a dismal debut performance against the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings defenders know that if they can rattle the young quarterback, he may fold, similar to Quinn's collapse last Sunday.

When the Lions made Stafford the first pick in April's draft, it was clear that he was going to be the franchise player who, along with running back Kevin Smith and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, will lead the Lions into the next decade. Against what many believe is a mediocre New Orleans defense, Stafford completed just 16 of 37 passes for 205 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions – two coming from former Vikings safety Darren Sharper. His passer rating was a brutal 27.4 – only Jake Delhomme's heinous outing against the Eagles was worse.

The Vikings' game plan heading into Sunday is the same formula they have employed successfully – stop the run, make an opponent one-dimensional on offense and put the heat on the quarterback to carry the offensive load. That is a difficult challenge for a wily veteran, much less and unproven rookie.

"You want to put the game in his hands and force him to try to beat you," defensive end Jared Allen said. "They've got a good running back and a dominant wide receiver and they're going to try to do things to get the ball to them. They're going to try to use them to take the pressure off of Stafford. It's our job not to let them do that and force the young kid to try to carry them"

For the big man in the middle – nose tackle Pat Williams -- the Vikings' front four needs to dominate the offensive linemen across the line of scrimmage from them. That has been their M.O. and Williams is convinced it doesn't matter if it is Stafford or Peyton Manning – if a quarterback doesn't have time to get comfortable in the pocket and read the defense, he will struggle.

"It doesn't matter to us who is back there, whether it's a young guy or a vet," Williams said. "We just have to execute. If we play the kind of ball we're capable of playing, we can make it tough on any quarterback. We have the same goal every week – stop the run and put the pressure on the quarterback. If you can do that, it doesn't matter if it's his first start or his 100th start."

While his first outing was brutal, that isn't indicative of the talent Stafford possesses. If he can buy time in the pocket, he has all the tools to become a great NFL quarterback. It may not have shown up on Sunday, but Stafford is going to be a dangerous threat. The Vikings know that they have to respect Stafford's rare gifts.

"He has a big arm and can make some big throws," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We saw that in the film of the Saints game and the preseason. We know he can do it. But, that takes time to get the deep ball. We have to get pressure and rattle him. He was the No. 1 pick for a reason and that first game wasn't a really good picture of what he can do."

The biggest advantage the Vikings may have is the lack of game experience Stafford has under his belt. When the teams meet for the second time in mid-November, they may see a very different quarterback. But for now, the key is going to be giving him looks defensively that he either hasn't seen or are designed to confuse the mind's eye.

"When you're up against a rookie quarterback, you want to disguise things and give him different looks he hasn't seen," Henderson said. "We want to force the ball into his hands and make them one-dimensional. He has talent, but if you can take away the run and force him to beat you, that's where young quarterbacks tend to struggle more than guys who have been around for awhile."

The success of the defense won't necessarily be predicated on getting sacks. Kevin Williams said that sacks are the measuring stick for the effectiveness of a defensive line, but just as important – if not more so – is to get pressure on the QB. Sacks are great and are typically drive-killers, but pressure is what makes a defense run at optimum efficiency, especially when dealing with a young quarterback still feeling his way on the job.

"It's not that you have to get him on his back and get a bunch of sacks," Williams said. "What you have to do is get around him and let him feel the heat. If you can get him moving his feet and not get set, his throws won't be on target or on time. It's great to get sacks, but it's more important to get around him, make him feel the pressure and knock him down. If he feels you coming, it affects younger guys more than older guys, because they've seen just about everything and can make the reads."

There is the expectation that eventually Stafford will develop into a solid NFL quarterback. But, for this Sunday anyway, the Vikings defense is looking to shatter his confidence and give him another ungrateful welcome to life in the NFL.

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