Lessons Learned: Big Time Defense Makes All The Difference

There is no doubt that Adrian Peterson led the Vikings to victory on Sunday, but it was the rarely seen big plays out of the Vikings defense that turned this one into a runaway win for the purple and gold.

The Vikings four sacks of Sam Bradford (Greenway, Ballard, Henderson, and Robison) are nothing out of the norm for the modern day Vikings, but they seemed to have the desire and ability to put an inferior team away on a couple of occasions.  This is most noticeable because this is something we have seen very rarely this year.

Prior to Sunday, the Vikings had only 9 interceptions and Harrison Smith’s two touchdowns were the only ones returned for scores.  That is why it was so nice to see Alan Williams mixing in some different looks, blitzing a little more often than normal, and dropping Everson Griffen back into the coverage scheme that resulted in the Vikings third pick six of the season.

The interception, coupled with Chad Greenway’s opportunistic fumble recovery, gave the Vikings the keys to their first two touchdown victory since week five against the Titans.

Incredible performances out of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings defense, and their special teams unit meant that the pressure was largely off of quarterback Christian Ponder which is exactly how they are going to continue to stay competitive in their remaining two weeks.

Big plays from the defense turned this game from a nail biter into a blowout and that is something I think we need to see more of as this young team grows into a legitimate force.

At the beginning of this month I stated that the Vikings playoff hopes died on Lambeau Field in their week 13 loss and while I still think that will be the case, I have great hopes for the future based off of what this young defense has shown me this season.

It would appear, however, that this team might be once again looking at the quarterback position as their top offseason need in order to continue taking things to the next level.

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Adam Warwas

Adam Warwas (Founder) has been writing about the Vikings for a total of eight years. Five of those years have been here at Vikings Territory where he continues to surround himself with enough talented individuals that people keep coming back. As proud as he is of what Vikings Territory has become, his real treasures are in his home... a beautiful wife and three amazing children (and a dog named Percy).

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  1. Sad but true Adam, I dont think there’s any doubt they need to upgrade the qb position if they’re gonna take the next step. With the current play calling it’s easy to tell that the Vikes know this as well. Ponder is a great guy but not a great qb. It was worth a shot to see if he could be the guy but it just didn’t work out.

  2. So its decided, then? He’s a confirmed bust? And we’re just gonna go out and pick us up an Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers down at the neighborhood Walmart?

    Musgrave told us he would offer an offense built around the running game. Signed another tight end, taught our wide outs more about blocking than receiving, and sticks to running AD even after he has eight yards in eight carries. The passing aspect of the offense would be conservative and low risk. Guys…. THIS is what they said they were gonna do…. THIS is what it looks like…. THIS is what has us in a playoff spot after 14 games (and gave us a chance to win several other games)…. THIS is how much responsibility is on the shoulders of a defense led by Allen, Williams and Greenway… THIS IS the 2012 Minnesota Vikings, as planned, and as advertised.

    1. I have to disagree, Coach. Something clicked prior to last week. The coaches went from forcing Ponder to sink or swim and started realizing that they couldn’t depend on him. The playcalling has been what Musgrave advertised, perhaps, but only in the last two weeks. Prior to that, it was like pulling teeth to even get Peterson a 4th quarter touch.

      Prior to two weeks ago it seemed the Vikings were hell bent on “evaluating” Ponder instead of winning football games. I think you, like me, went into this season saying “2012 is all about Ponder and his progression.” Now, I think it is all about doing what we can with him at the helm… and then determining if he can improve enough to be a viable option next year or if it is time to move on.

    2. You are right coach. For the first nine games of the season Ponder had the best WR in the league (Welker only recently surpassed Harvin’s yards-after-catch total) and he managed to look only slightly less than average at QB. If we can just get him the top three WR’s in the league, perhaps by shopping at our local Wal-Mart, then Ponder could become a winner.

      He has never done anything to show me he is capable of taking over a football game. At his best he has been able to limit his mistakes enough to keep us from losing. “Defense wins championships” is a phrase as outdated as “Ronald Reagen, best known for acting…” in today’s QB driven league.

      A good defense might be a requirement for a championship, but a top notch QB is a prerequisite.

  3. There is some merit in what you say, Adam, and I still can’t say I “believe” in Ponder. But I think what “clicked” was at least partly a response to “why are we trying to do what we aren’t made to do?” I will even guess it was Leslie who asked that question. “Why are we throwing on first down in and near the red zone (Packer game) when we built a team around the best back in the league?” I don’t have much against Musgrave, but I think he was out-clevering himself at Lambut a few times.

    I won’t lie, I thought Ponder would provide more than he has, but until he has a respectable set of receivers to throw to, I won’t be throwing him out in the street. I’ll say it here and now, “Until this receiving corps is significantly upgraded, no QB will make us happy and highly successful.”

  4. Ponder, Peterson, etc, etc. The one glaring indicator of the Vikings winning this year is the defense stopping the run. With the exception of one game (and I can’t remember which one it was), we got steamrolled on the ground in losses, and won when we owned the defensive line of scrimmage. It IS this teams’ denominator. It seems to drive everything else they do.

    1. S-Jax averaged 5.6 yards per carry and was chewing us up in this one coach. Had big plays not allowed this one to get out of hand there was little reason to believe he was going to slow down. A defensive score, 82 yard run, and a big legged kicker masked an incompetent passing game.

      Ponder’s only TD came on a run, after a very questionable decision to go for it on fourth down. Five field goals are 15 points, and that is great, but not a super great testament to our quarterbacks abilities to put a game away. It arguably should have been six field goals to boot.

      1. Interesting. I never felt in any point of that game that Jackson was “chewing us up.”. Overall I felt we were winning that battle throughout that game. Don’t put much stock in the YPC stat.

        1. If you didn’t think that S-Jax was chewing us up in that first quarter, coach, then you weren’t watching. The lack of total running stats had nothing to do with our ability to stop it, and everything to do with the score getting out of hand. We, as Vikings fans, are all too familiar with being in that position… when run plays just can’t be called.

          1. I’m pretty sure… no… I’m positive I was watching, Adam. (Sunday at noon, right?) Here’s the log Adam. With 9:00 remaining in the first half and St. Louis down 17-7, Jackson had runs of 0, 13, 15, 6, 4, 1, 4. Shortly thereafter they were behind 27-7.

            You like the average of 6.1 yards per carry. I like the fact that in all but two of the 7 runs he was pretty much contained, and none of them went for 82 yards. I’m not sure what level of confidence the Rams ever had in him, as he had gotten the ball 7 times in 24 snaps at that 9 minute mark. Apparently the Rams coaching staff didn’t feel they were chewing us up.

            Adrian, on the other hand, went from a 1.0 average on 8 carries to a 10.0 average on 9 carries. Boy, he sure got better all at once!! He then went on to 212 yards, which, I think, does constitute getting chewed up.

            1. Four yards is contained? Six? For a guy that loves good dominance on the D-Line, you sure have low standards coach. I read your run log as 0 yards on first down, first down, first down, 6 yards on first down, 4 yards on first down, 1 yard on first down, 4 yards on first down… two minute drill time.

              The Rams didn’t have the conviction to stick with him, true, but I don’t think you can point to our run defense as the ultimate indicator with production like this on obvious running downs.

              He then only got 4 touches in the second half.

              If not giving up 82 yard touchdowns is the standard you hold the defense to, which is only fair considering the expectations you apparently have at QB, then I can see why you are enjoying this year and predict you will enjoy every year, ever, forever… as, admittedly, will I 🙂

              (by the way, I’m enjoying this banter in good fun, don’t take me too seriously)

      2. We’re starting to get into style points here, Adam. Ponder runs for a TD and he’s done something wrong? Leslie was confident he could convert on 4th down, went for it and succeeded, and he’s called “questionable”? The Rams rush for 83 yards and we got “chewed up?” It seems we will only be happy with this team when we throw for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, and force teams to go three and out on every defensive series. Winning the way we are winning is just not acceptable? Let me tell you, any way you can win in the NFL, you take it. Just ask the Lions, Rams, and Saints how much their passing yards mean to them today.

        Don’t make me quote Herm Edwards here, Adam. 🙂

        1. I did nothing bu applaud Ponder’s ability to convert that fourth down and then get the TD ont he ground, Coach. I’m saying that at that point in the game, going for it on fourth instead of taking the easy three was a questionable call. As always, converting means it isn’t talked about, while failing would’ve led to calling for Frazier’s head. Even though it worked, I still disagree with the call, as I did at the time and don’t want to use “hind sight” to claim otherwise.

          Winning the way we are winning is acceptable. Losing the way we are losing isn’t. When we win by being one dimensional it is because we are just “built that way.” But when we lose because of our inability to pass it is because we are poorly built.

          One dimensional is not what we should strive for on offense or defense, coach, and I know that you know that I know that you know that 🙂

  5. Adrian Peterson has 20 runs over 20 yards, and 8 over 40.

    Ponder has 21 over 20 and 2 over 40.

    That obviously highlights Peterson’s awesomeness, but it also simply cannot be excused in terms of Ponder’s production. Especially with the attention Peterson is getting.

    In 9 game Matt Cassel got 24 for over 20 and 1 for over 40.
    In 6 games Kevin Kolb got 13 over 20 and 1 over 40.
    Before Monday night Mark Sanchez had 33 over 20 and 3 over 40.
    Ryan Fitzpatrick has 37 over 20 and 5 over 40.
    In 10 games Blaine Gabbert has 18 over 20 and 3 over 40.
    In 9 games Mike Vick had 24 over 20 and 4 over 40.

    All were arguably equal to or better than Ponder. How many will be keeping their job next year? Of the bunch, I would say Ponder has the best chance… now, tell me, is that a good thing for us?

    1. I wish I could suck at my job, constantly help out the competition and produce like crap and just have my coworker pick up the slack because I’m “developing”.

    2. I don’t think any of those QB’s are sitting in a playoff spot this morning, Adam, and Ponder is. He has made some poor plays this season, no doubt, but he has also made some very good ones. The number of plays over 20 and 40 are going to go to AD on this team, not Ponder. Its the way we are built on offense, and to use those figures against Ponder is not an apples-to-apples comparison. I would venture that many of those bigger plays from other QB’s were in desperation in hopelessly come-from-behind situations.

      And… do not underestimate the limited opportunities to convert long plays to this group of receivers. They are THE weakest position on this team right now, hands down.

      1. Right, none of these teams had a QB that did anything to help their team earn a playoff spot. I can’t say that the Vikings are any different… they have a playoff spot, but did the QB really help them get there?

        Yes, desperation throws. I remember when we had a QB capable of making those plays… but its been two years.

        This is a one dimensional offense. The receivers deserve their share of the game, true, but they don’t play quarterback. They aren’t supposed to be looked at as the leader of the offense. The truly great quarterbacks that win Super Bowls tend to elevate guys around them… guys like David Tyree, Emmanuel Sanders, Mario Manningham, and Devery Henderson have all played very well in Super Bowls of late, but never played with other QB’s as well as they did with the greats that got them there.

        Aromashadu has played better football than he is this year. Simpson too. Michael Jenkins as well. These guys are in no way shape or form being elevated by Mr. Ponder. They are simply being lumped into the misery.

        One dimensional. Pick who you blame: QB, WR’s, coordinator, head coach, front office… or all of the above. All I know is that our QB is not getting it done and if AD (seriously, Fran speaks the truth) gets an unusually painful hangnail or something we will find out just how bad this offense is without him.

        1. … or how good the Packers would be without Aaron Rodgers, or the Saints without Drew Brees, or the Patriots without Tom Brady, or the Texans without Arian Foster, or the… Every team has a guy they can’t afford to lose, Adam. We’ve already lost Percy Harvin, and we’re still hanging in there.

          We’re in the playoffs with two weeks to go! How crazy would that have been to state three months ago? Personally, I’m enjoying it, Ponder and all!

          1. I am enjoying it, too, Bud. Make no doubt about it. That’s why I don’t want it to end until February, which will not happen because of a few reasons… the biggest of which is our limitations at the QB position.

  6. Great debate. I wish you guys would continue with it.

    I obviously agree with Adam, as it’s pretty much what I’ve been writing about the last couple of weeks.

    HAVING SAID THAT, give Coach his due, he’s the only guy I personally know who gave us a shot against the 49ers, myself absolutely included. Anybody who can say the matchup favored a Vikes victory and have it come to fruition is freaking impressive.

    Coach, what say you about the matchup vs. the Texans? Personally, AD vs. JJ Watt is the ultimate “unstoppable force vs. and immovable object” game. I fear JJ may actually injure AD if they don’t swing the run away from him.Just a gut feeling.

    What say you?

    1. You got it wrong, you said JJ Watt would injury AP….. No AP will injure JJ Watt and yes Unstoppable force always wins it doesnt need to move the object if it breaks it!

      1. It’s really a great conversation Skol…AD is beyond ridiculous, like a non human. However, JJ Watt reminds me of the dominance I haven’t seen since Reggie White. Dude’s pretty amazing how he takes over a game. BOLD PREDICTION: I think both he and Aldon Smtih break Strahan’s BS record, but I also think JJ beats him by half a sack. Take that to the bank and watch it bounce.

        I really think both will be HOF…and I look forward to this matchup.

        1. I hope Aldon Smith doesnt, he had 5.5 against a bears team that had given up he deserves as much of an asterisk as Strahan does. JJ Watt is amazing but AP is Legen wait for it… dary! Legendary

    2. Well, this is clearly not a favorable match-up for the Vikes, Tomb, first and foremost because of Andre Johnson. That player is the greatest difference between these two teams, especially with Percy on IR. This is clearly a better team than the 49ers, and they are at home, and the trio of Schaub, Foster and Johnson is far more than the 49ers threw at us.

      HAVING SAID THAT (imitation is the greatest form of flattery?), there are intangibles at work here. The Vikes have far more to play for than the Texans. It has been my experience that a team’s focus during the week following a wrap up of a playoff spot is weak, home field on the line or not. The Vikes have caught a big break here, in my estimation, and while the match-up is not “favorable” I think the game itself is “winnable”. Oh, and I think JJ stands for Jennifer Janelle – he doesn’t scare me, and he doesn’t scare Adrian.

  7. Good debate for sure but to me Ponder looks like Tjack 2.0 and look where that got us. I really don’t want to end up like Sanchez and the Jets yikes!

  8. ponder hasn’t turned the corner yet, but he could be veerning towards it a little bit. he improved in our last bears game, and early in the st. louis game, he zipped a pass in between a couple of defenders and showed some toughness, grit and determination when he got whacked in the pocket and escaped for a running TD. he even violently spiked the ball in the end zone. i was so happy to see all of that and wanted it to continue in that game, but he didn’t have to take any chances and played it safe the rest of the game. i wish he had taken some more chances, though. it was a perfect opportunity for him to go nuts

    maybe he doesn’t have the confidence or ego, and we know he doesn’t have the receivers, but at some point, he really needs to have a big game to show that he belongs, mostly to himself. hopefully, he’s just a slow developer, cuz i hate the idea of starting over again looking for a QB. i think his personality, unfortunately, is to be too conservative, because it’s better to have a guy who is too aggressive that you have to reign in, than a guy that is too conservative that you have to push. maybe he’ll grow into the QB position, but 100 or 150 yd. games won’t cut it in the nfl for very long and they certainly won’t win titles, regardless of how the team is designed, or forced, to operate. dilfer and the ravens were an aberration

    1. I’m just not seeing the arm strength or accuracy on passes over 5 yards. We can blame the recievers all we want but around here we are constantly seeing recievers wide open and Ponder just doesnt see them for some reason. My dad and son are yelling out loud ” damn it Ponder that guy was wide open” while Ponder throws into double and triple coverage.. Somethings just not right, I dont know if it’s panic or confidence or what?

      1. i think you’re right, he misses opportunities, and that can change with experience, if he sticks long enough to get the chance, kinda like AD used to run into the back of his blocking and now he seems to have fixed that. the arm strength and accuracy of ponder’s throws are another issue. if 80 mph pitchers could learn to throw 100 mph, they would

        1. Great analogy Cal especially after watching Kaeppernick with that rifle of his the other night, wow! And to think the Vikes passed on him to select Ponder in that draft whoa. Bet there’s alot of teams kicking themselves in the ass after that one.

            1. Especially Minnesota. 49ers already had Alex Smith, Seahawks had Matt Flynn, Redskins had RG3 and Eagles had Mike Vick.

  9. Seriously? Not a chance! 🙂 But if a running back of that stature only has 39 yards in the first 18 minutes of a game, we’re Ok. Remember Adam, if they don’t give him the ball, he gets 0 yards. And if running the ball isnt in their game plan, then we stopped the run. And we win!