Notebook: Defense finds stride, variety

Alan Williams (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)

The Vikings defense may have played its best game of the season when needed most, and coordinator Alan Williams showed a variety of looks.

Christian Ponder was efficient. Adrian Peterson has been generally running roughshod over opposing defenses. But it is the Vikings' own defense that has been largely unheralded of late.

It made an impressive statement Sunday in Minnesota's 23-6 win at Houston. The six points allowed by the Vikings defense was the lowest total in more than five years – since the first game of Peterson's career.

Even more impressive is that it came against the Houston Texans, who entered the game with a 12-2 record and were playing at home. They were only the second team in the past 50 years of NFL play that didn't score a touchdown in a game they entered in which they were at least 10 games above .500, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The last time that happened was also in 2007, when the Cowboys were 12-1, hosted the Eagles at Texas Stadium and lost 10-6.

"Our defense was terrific throughout that game, probably our most complete game as a team, without question – our best game of the season from a defensive standpoint," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.

The Vikings frustrated Houston QB Matt Schaub throughout. He finished with 178 yards passing, a total that was whittled down to 153 net yards passing after taking into consideration the sack yardage.

The Vikings were aggressive from the outset, sending two linebacker blitzes – one with Erin Henderson and another with Chad Greenway – in the first five times Schaub dropped back to pass. It became a bit of a theme as the game advanced.

"Just the situation we were in, we were trying to get off the field in those critical situations, critical downs. We came a lot in a row," Greenway said. "Not me personally, but as a linebacker group in general, we came probably the most we have this year."

On Houston's second series, the Vikings continued to mix up the coverages and rushes, bringing both Jasper Brinkley and Greenway on a blitz and dropping Everson Griffen into coverage. Greenway got a hit on Schaub, helping force an incompletion that was part of a three-and-out series, and Greenway and Brinkley blitzed on separated downs in the next series that ended with Brinkley forcing one of two fumbles the Vikings recovered.

At times, they rushed as many as six players and at times as few as three. Fifteen games into the season, defensive coordinator Alan Williams seems comfortable calling a variety of different blitz packages and defenses.

"As the season has gone on, he's gotten more familiar with our players and what their strengths and weaknesses are. We are without question playing our best ball on defense and this is where you want to be doing it at. You don't want to start off great in September and October and then all the sudden you're fizzling in December," Frazier said. "It's great to see how we've grown as a team and we're growing on defense as well.

"He's grown more accustomed to what our guys' strengths and weaknesses are and he's utilizing guys in a good way. The things that we did game-plan wise, our defensive staff did a great job throughout this last week preparing for Houston, which is a very good offense – one of the top offenses in our league. Alan and the rest of the defensive staff did a terrific job. But, yes, he has really adapted to our guys and what their strengths are."

The defensive statistics attest to that. The Vikings had four sacks and only two of them came from defensive linemen – Jared Allen and Fred Evans. The other two came from defensive backs Antoine Winfield, coming on a corner blitz form the slot, and Harrison Smith when he chased down backup QB T.J. Yates from behind and knocked the ball loose.

Defensive backs Smith, Winfield and A.J. Jefferson were all credited with quarterback hits, as were linebackers Greenway and Brinkley.

"The last two weeks you've probably noticed that we've done a few more of those things," Greenway said of the blitzes. "It's not really our M.O., but you have to do those things, especially when you've got to give somebody a different look. Otherwise you put the same thing on tape over and over, and obviously they are going to start to figure it out. Give people some different looks and now we move forward to Green Bay, who obviously knows what we are going to do for the most part because they see us a lot and we have a lot of like opponents. But hopefully we can throw something different at them."

NOTES

  • According to ESPN, the Vikings hit Texans RB Arian Foster behind the line of scrimmage on six of his 10 rushes. He had only 15 yards rushing.

  • QB Christian Ponder completed four passes that traveled 15 or more yards in the air, matching his total from the previous seven games combined, according to ESPN.

  • Texans WR Andre Johnson became the second-fastest receiver to 800 receptions in a career, reaching that mark in his 137th game Sunday. Marvin Harrison reached that milestone in 131 games.

  • The Vikings' six-game win differential from last year to this year – they were 3-13 in 2011 and are 9-7 now – matches the biggest swing from a previous season in team history. They went from nine wins in 1998 to 15 in 1998. A win Sunday against the Packers would set the franchise mark.

  • The Vikings pulled Adrian Peterson late in the fourth quarter with the win in hand. "More caution than anything," Frazier said. "He was a little sore, his abdomen was a little sore. We didn't want to put him back in there once we knew we had the game in hand."

  • CB Chris Cook made the start after missing the past six games with a broken forearm, but he wasn't a full-time player as the Vikings worked him back into game shape. Cook played in 37 of the 56 defensive snaps, with A.J. Jefferson playing 35. "Just his conditioning and knowing that game speed vs. practice speed is different, we wanted to make sure we bring him along but get him in at the right times," Frazier said of Cook.

  • DL Everson Griffen made the start in place of Brian Robison (shoulder) at defensive end. He had a tackle for a loss, two quarterback hits, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery.

  • Robison might be able to return for the regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers. "I think he'll be ready. He was close, but we'll have to wait and see when we start back at work next week," Frazier said. "I'm hoping we'll have him back. We definitely need him. The guys who did play, Everson did a great job."


    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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