Pat Williams has his own nickname for the Vikings defensive line.
"Outlaws for life. That's our name for our front – Outlaws. Everybody is trying to name us, but we're just outlaws," Williams said.
Williams and his defensive linemates were running amok on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings held the Seahawks to four yards net rushing, the second-best mark in Vikings history and the Seahawks' franchise low. Five weeks earlier, the Seahawks rushed for 14 yards against Arizona with their starting running back Julius Jones, and that performance had established the previous mark.
With Jones out last week with a chest contusion, backup Justin Forsett rushed for 123 yards and the Seattle may have been thinking it had found a rushing rhythm.
"(Defensive line coach Karl) Dunbar just tells us to read our keys. Wherever that goes, that's where the man is going, especially on the defensive line," said defensive end Ray Edwards, who led the team with six tackles. "We just did our job very well today."
Forsett was limited to nine yards on nine carries, but the Seahawks had minus-9 yards rushing in the second quarter, thanks to backup quarterback Seneca Wallace running out of bounds for a 9-yard loss on a Wildcat play.
The 2006 Vikings, with Pat and Kevin Williams part of that group, established the franchise record with minus-3 yards against the Detroit Lions. That helped propel that run defense into the No. 1 ranking in the league that season. And the next. And last year.
For three years running, the Vikings had the top rush defense in the league, but they didn't look like it at the beginning of this year.
"Everybody was saying earlier in the year that we weren't stopping the run. Everybody always starts early, but we always start late. We don't worry about it, but we always start late. We're just having fun," Pat Williams said.
"We just have to worry about us. We don't worry about what they game-plan. That's all we ever do is worry about us."
The run defense definitely didn't start early. One week into the season, they were ranked 19th, but they slowly started to move up the league charts. After seven weeks, they were 10th, then seventh and then sixth. They entered their game against the Seahawks with the fifth-ranked rushing defense.
"We just tried to get back to the fundamentals. We were trying to do too much," Edwards said. "We were putting too much pressure on ourselves in keeping that crown. Now we're just going out there having fun and just playing ball."
Linebacker Chad Greenway, who finished tied for second on the team with four tackles Sunday, said the difference lately has simply been better tackling.
"Just flying around making tackles. We didn't make it very easy for them to run the football and be able to get something going," Greenway said. "As usual, the guys up front did a great job and we just fill in behind them and the safeties come down and make big hits and it worked together today."
Pat Williams' jovial mood after the Seahawks game was quite a departure from a few weeks ago, when he was still irked about the rush defense. While he claimed the average early rankings didn't motivate him, some of his teammates admitted that getting back to that No. 1 spot was a big deal to them.
"It's No. 1 on our list of things we want to get accomplished for the season," Greenway said. "Our defensive front is so good that we should just be there and do that, and we haven't been there this year. It was good to get that done today. Four (yards)? We need some more of those if we want to get back in this battle. We're out of it a little bit right now."
Not by much. After Sunday's performance the Vikings could be a top-three rush defense when the 11th week of the NFL concludes.
The Vikings were the first team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to lead the league in rush defense three years in a row. Now they are trending toward a chance at a fourth consecutive season atop the rankings.
"It means a lot. It's probably never been done four years in a row," Edwards said. "We just plan on keep doing that and playing our type of ball. Getting after the quarterback and trying to make them one-dimensional."
The Outlaws are back on track, and Pat Williams, a U.S. Marshall is proud of the nickname.
"You can't go to jail out on the field," he said. "The outlaws break all the rules."
And, apparently, all the records.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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