Vikings return to 3-4 challenges

The Vikings faced a lot of 3-4 defensive schemes in the beginning of the season, but they return to that challenge Sunday against Dallas. How does the Dallas defense differ from those earlier schemes? The players talked about what they see from the Cowboys.

Some of the best defenses in the NFL this year were operating out of a 3-4 scheme, and the Vikings had a chance – mostly early in the season – to get a taste of it.

Prior to the bye, the Vikings offense was facing the trending 3-4 defense more often than the more prototypical 4-3 defense that the Vikings operate from, but that hardly gives the Vikings much cause for concern.

Before their regular-season bye, six of the first eight Vikings games featured opposing 3-4 defenses. They started the season with Cleveland, then played San Francisco, Green Bay (twice), Baltimore and Pittsburgh – all featuring the 3-4 look as their base defense. Three of those teams finished in the top five for NFL defenses – Green Bay finished second, Baltimore third and Pittsburgh fifth. The Vikings lost only to Pittsburgh on the road.

Minnesota will get another chance to display their capabilities Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

"What I like about Dallas is they just line up and they play and they say, ‘Let's go.' They're really I would say more (like) San Fran than Baltimore. San Fran would line up, show you what's going on. You stop it," said guard Anthony Herrera.

"The way they play the 3-4. It's a 3-4 personnel, but it's more of a four-down (linemen) defense. They've got the best of both worlds. They can still do their 3-4 scheme and still play in a four-down defensive look. … Their defense is stout. They don't do a lot, but the things they do, they do it extremely well."

Vikings coach Brad Childress said the Cowboys defense reminds him most of the Baltimore Ravens defense the Vikings faced on Oct. 18.

"I think all those (3-4 defenses) have a little different flavor to them. Some people reduce on the weak side, which this is one of them," Childress said. "Some people just stay in their straight 3-4, a la New England – they very seldom give you a move down and cover the guard look, but this group will. But I don't think it can hurt us. Just the extra day to be able to look at it, and last week for the coaches, I think helps as well."

With a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Vikings knew that Dallas was a likely opponent for them in the divisional round of the playoffs and the coaches spent most of last week preparing for Dallas' 3-4 defense. The key appears to be diagnosing where outside linebackers Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus are on each play.

But the concept of the 3-4 doesn't seem to worry tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the least.

"The 3-4 defense is the easiest defense to damn diagnose and it matches up well with what we want to do. … It's going to be tough to block them dudes – Ware and Spencer and all them dudes. But we're damn capable of doing it," Shiancoe said. "A lot of people are jumping on their bandwagon, but it don't matter to us and it don't matter to me."

Tackle Bryant McKinnie agreed with Childress that the Cowboys defense is similar to Baltimore, but McKinnie figured he wouldn't see as much of Spencer as he would Ware.

Herrera indicated most 3-4 defenses are similar, but it's the personnel that make or break any defense.

"Pretty much the same scheme. Different players, different coordinator," he said. "They're going to have a couple of things that are a little bit different, but it's just like playing against the Tampa-2 defense. They're going to have stuff that's a little bit different, but to the core it's still the Tampa-2 defense. To the core, they're still a 3-4 defense, but they're still going to have a couple things, a couple of wrinkles that make them the Dallas Cowboys."

In the six games the Vikings have faced 3-4 defenses, they averaged 363 yards of offense. In the 10 games they faced a 4-3, they averaged 389 yards.

The Vikings went over the 400-yard mark only once against a 3-4, and that was against Baltimore, when they put up 426 yards of offense. They went over the 400-yard mark five times against a 4-3 defense, including a 537-yard performance against the Chicago Bears.

Center John Sullivan, who makes the calls along the offensive line, didn't seem fazed by facing another three-man front.

"We've got a big challenge ahead of us. They're a good defense, very physical, athletic front. Our coaches will put together a game plan, we'll go out and execute it and hopefully we'll be successful," he said. "… We're experienced against any front we could possibly see. I think we've seen them all this year. We'll just go out there, run our normal 3-4 rules. If we can execute, we should do well."

As for Dallas specifically, Herrera appreciates the Cowboys' approach to defense – no frills, just muscle.

"The Cowboys line up, show you what's going on and they want to smack you in the mouth. It's not really going to be too much like, ‘I don't know who's coming or not coming,'" he said.

"I love 'em. I've always liked Dallas. They've got a little edge to them. They're on a roll right now. … I like the way they're playing right now. It's going to be a nice, tough game."

Said Shiancoe: "We'll see when they come down here. It ain't going to be no walk in the park for them, I know that."

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