Pass defense saw success with youth

Even without Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield, the Vikings pass defense showed well against one of the NFL's leading quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger. Several defenders gave their impressions of the performance and the areas that need improvement.

The NFL proves time and again that one team's strength one week could be a weakness seven days later. In the Vikings' case, they defied the pregame statistics.

With the 24th-ranked passing defense in the league, they were coming up against the league's top quarterback in passing yardage. And the defense survived just fine, despite a 27-17 loss that featured more points given up on offensive mistakes than defensive problems.

"As a team, after watching the film, you see a lot of good things that happened from the game and something we can build on, most definitely," said rookie cornerback Asher Allen.

Allen was active for the first game in his career and played a role in the Vikings' nickel defense. Of course, Allen had a role because of the foot injury that forced Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield to miss the game. With a short-handed defensive backfield struggling the previous week against the Baltimore Ravens, there was plenty of local consternation about how the pass defense would perform against Ben Roethlisberger, who had thrown for 417 yards the previous week. The pass defense improved its NFL ranking four slots to 20th in the league after limiting Roethlisberger to 175 yards.

Players viewed the performance in various ways.

"I wasn't necessarily impressed. I think it's the standard which we hold on defense and I wish we could have done more," linebacker Ben Leber said. "There were some key plays that we certainly should have played better. We had a key – Asher's forced fumble there toward the end of the game – we wish we could have fallen on the ball and gotten that ball back because that would have been a crucial play. So, yeah, there are certainly things we could have done better. I'm not surprised by it, it's just how our defense plays."

Karl Paymah, who was making his first start for the Vikings at cornerback, said the defense felt good about coming together with different players filling in. However, he, too, felt there was more the defense could have done. Safety Madieu Williams wanted to wait before putting the pass defense into perspective.

"You can't look at it as the best game. We still got a whole season left to play," Williams said. "… As of right now, you can't take any solace in what you did this week. You got to get ready for next week."

Roethlisberger threw for only 175 yards, and the Vikings certainly had given up more yardage to lesser passers this season. The Browns' Brady Quinn, now on the bench, had 205. The 49ers' Shaun Hill, who was benched Sunday, had 195 against the Vikings. Rams backup Kyle Boller had 209.

The only real costly lapse in the pass defense Sunday came at the end of the first half, when the Vikings allowed receptions of 22 yards and 40 yards to rookie receiver Mike Wallace. The second one was a touchdown that allowed the Steelers to retake a 10-7 lead.

"It is uncharacteristic and I can't really tell you why it's happening or what's going on," Leber said of the explosive passes. "I think sometimes it's just teams are hitting the spots or hitting the holes or just a good call on their parts. We definitely want to correct those things, but it's kind of hard to sit there and say, ‘Hey, we're going to stop all explosive plays,' because you get too conservative at that point."

Besides the two explosive passes to Wallace, the Steelers had one other explosive passing play, and that was the result of missed tackles. Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes on a short pass, but after breaking several tackles he wasn't brought down until 45 yards later.

"It's something we've got to fix. We realize right now that we've got to minimize the yardage and make the tackles," Williams said. "We've just got to make it a point of emphasis. Guys got to tackle and do a better job of minimizing the yardage."

But for having two relatively inexperienced players in the Vikings secondary contributing heavily – and going against the NFL passing yardage leader at the time – Minnesota's pass defense wasn't the big problem. The young players held up.

"I was just happy to see me on film," Allen said of making his first NFL appearance after a film review Monday. "I was happy. Everything kind of gets in a bad light when you don't win. There is always something else, us as a team, that we could have did. I think with a big game this week hopefully we can just put it all together as a team and maybe get a win."


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