In Friday’s mailbag feature, a reader asked if the Vikings rushing defense is as good as advertised or if the unit’s numbers are so impressive because teams simply choose not to run against the Vikings. I thought it was a fair question, which is why I actually dug into some numbers and gave it extra thought.
Ultimately my opinion is that the rushing defense is as good (or maybe better) than widely thought. You can read my complete answer by clicking this link and checking out Friday’s mailbag feature.
But I wanted to expand a little bit on my original answer.
For a short time during 2006, some questioned the legitimacy of the Vikings rushing defense because although they were not allowing many rushing yards, they also had the least number of rushes attempted against them. Ultimately, though, the thought that the rushing defense was so good because no one ran against them was neutralized by the fact that the Vikings allowed only 2.8 yards per attempt.
For the 2009 Vikings rushing defense, though, the yards per carry number isn’t as impressive – the Vikings are allowing 4.1 yards per attempt. So that makes the “no one is running against them argument” a little more valid, right? Maybe, but there are other factors to consider and when those factors are considered, you can see why the Vikings rushing defense is actually as good as advertised, if not actually better.
A few things to consider…
— The Vikings have allowed only 3 rushing TDs all year, which is tied for 1st (New England) in the NFL.
— There’s something to be said for a defense setting the tone of the game by shutting down the run. The running game is just as much about imposing your will upon the opponent as it is about actual production. The Vikings have the NFL’s 2nd-ranked rushing defense in the 1st half, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry. This means that the Vikings are shutting down the run early and forcing teams out of their game plan and into pass-happy attacks. The Vikings have allowed 100 more rushing yards in the 2nd half of games than they have in the 1st half, which means teams are gaining most of their rushing yards against the Vikings at a time when the Vikings are usually protecting a lead and anticipating the pass (the Vikings have outscored opponents in the 2nd half by a 202-135 margin). So instead of using the “no one is running against them argument” against the Vikings, that argument can actually be used in support of the rushing defense.
— The Vikings rushing defense comes up when it counts the most. We already know they’ve given up a league-low 3 TDs, but they also lead the NFL in opponent’s 3rd-and-short rushing conversion rate. Opposing teams convert just 38.9% of the time on the ground in 3rd and short (under 4 yards) scenarios against the Vikings.
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The Vikings have listed both Percy Harvin (illness) and Sidney Rice (illness) as questionable on Friday’s injury report. Rice was held out of practice on Friday for the 2nd consecutive day but Harvin returned to practice for the 1st time since Wednesday.
DE Ray Edwards (back) is also questionable for Sunday’s game.
Nine other players were on this week’s injury report and they are all listed as probable for Sunday’s game. You can read Friday’s injury report by clicking here.
For the Panthers, QB Jake Delhomme (finger) has been ruled out of Sunday’s game. CB Richard Marshall (ankle) and RB Tyrell Sutton (thigh) are listed as questionable. DE Tyler Brayton (concussion), LB Na’il Diggs (ribs), WR Muhsin Muhammed (knee) and RB Jonathan Stewart (toe) are probable.
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It’s hard to believe that we’ve talked Vikings-Panthers for the past 3 days but haven’t yet mentioned DE Julius Peppers. Maybe it was because of his 2.5-sack season in 2007, but for some reason Peppers doesn’t get as much hype as he used to.
If you take out that substandard 2007 season, here is a list of his sack totals beginning in his rookie season (2002): 12.0, 7.0, 11.0, 10.5, 13.0 and 14.5. So far this season, Peppers has 8.5 sacks. That’s a grand total of 79.0 sacks, which ranks him 1st in Panthers history. Peppers, a 4-time Pro Bowler, is also 1st in franchise history with 24 forced fumbles and 8 blocked kicks.
As you can see, Peppers is an ultra-productive player. But he is also dangerous because of his versatility. He can play on either side of the line of scrimmage and he has a beautiful blend of size (6-7, 283 pounds), speed and power. As a result, offensive coordinators around the league are well-aware of the Panthers stud DE, regardless of the amount of hype he receives.
“You definitely have to know where he is at,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said on Thursday. “He can turn it up at any time. Obviously he’s an elite pass rusher. He’s really got all the moves that you need. He’s got enough speed to get around the edge. He can change the speed to power. They’ll use him in stunts so he can end up on the inside. So they do a great job with him and obviously at any time he can show up.”
But that’s been the criticism of Peppers as of late, mostly because of that 2.5-sack effort in ’07. Some say Peppers turns it on and off, rather than leaving it on at all times. While box scores certainly don’t tell the whole story, you can see where Peppers’ critics are coming from if you look at game-by-game logs in Peppers profile.
I’ll assure you right now, though, that studying his game-by-game box scores to try and guess if this Sunday night will be an “on” day or an “off” day for the DE is a useless exercise. There are plenty of reasons to think Peppers will be at his best in terms of effort on Sunday night.
First of all, he’s playing against one of the NFL’s most lethal offenses and against an all-time great QB in Brett Favre. Any defensive player with an ounce of competitiveness – and Peppers is as competitive as any – loves a challenge. Secondly, this game is in prime time and will be televised by NBC, giving it a high-profile nature that seems to bring out the best in star players. Lastly, Peppers will share the field on Sunday with another superstar DE – Jared Allen. Peppers and Allen have trained together and Allen did not hesitate this week to express how he feels about Peppers as a player.
“Peppers is a beast. He is an absolute beast,” Allen said, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. “He does things that sometimes I wish I could do. I have nothing but good things to say about him. For how big he is, he moves so gracefully. He does things at that end position that set precedent of themselves. He has been a player that I have always liked to watch.”
So the Vikings have a challenge this weekend in trying to keep Peppers cool. Peppers is listed as the RDE on the Panthers online depth chart, meaning those of us watching Sunday night’s game will be treated to a colossal matchup – LT Bryant McKinnie vs. Peppers.
Hopefully Mt. McKinnie can keep Peppers cool.
Tags: Darrell Bevell
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Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Vikings got their running game back on track as Adrian Peterson logged his best game since Week 10 at home against Detroit and the Vikings as a team rushed the ball more than had in the previous pair of games.
The resurgence in the rushing game comes at a good time for the Vikings because this week they hit the road and will face a talented Carolina secondary that features a pair of hard-hitting safeties and a crop of collision-happy and ball-hawking CBs.
“They are a downhill playing crowd,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said of Carolina’s secondary. “Knowing (head coach) John (Fox) is a defensive guy and a former secondary coach, I know how he values those guys and how they play.
“Whether it was back in the day of Danny Manning being there or (Mike) Minter, those guys have always played with an aggressive mindset and mentality. Rarely do you see them put defensive backs on the field that don’t play that way.”
The 2009 version of the Panthers secondary fits the mold of a traditional John Fox-coached unit. They rank 6th in yards allowed and have top 5 rankings in TDs allowed (13), INTs (18) and opponents passer rating (73.1).
From an individual standpoint, the Vikings have some familiarity with this unit. CB Chris Gamble and safeties Chris Harris and Charles Godfrey all started last year at the Metrodome against the Vikings and they’ll also be on the field this Sunday night. The other starting CB – Richard Marshall – also played against the Vikings last year as a nickel back. Quinton Teal and Dante Wesley are 2 other players who will likely suit up this week that also played in last year’s contest.
“I think they do a great job with their scheme,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I know we’ve played against Gamble for a while. No pun intended, but he does like to gamble. He does like to sit on some routes, which has helped him over his career to be able to make big plays, to be able to get his hands on balls. (Richard) Marshall on the other side. I think they have some good players.”
Against the Vikings last year, Carolina’s secondary yielded just 186 net yards passing, intercepted Gus Frerotte once and also registered 1 of the club’s 3 sacks when Godfrey brought Frerotte down behind the line of scrimmage.
Against the Vikings this year, Carolina has an added advantage – they’re playing at home. Given their aggressive style, expect this unit to be amped up as they go against Brett Favre and Co.
“It will be a tough atmosphere for us that we have to respond to, no different than Arizona,” Favre said. “If we don’t rise up to the occasion against their defense, before we know it, we’ll be in the same situation. I don’t mean to speak for the other phases of our team.
“We have to handle our business and that is going to be tough enough.”
Here’s a closer look at the personnel in Carolina’s secondary:
– Gamble was a 1st round pick of the Panthers out of Ohio State and has had an outstanding career to this point. He’s 2nd in club history in INTs with 24 and he’s got 4 of them this season. Last year at the Metrodome, he picked off Gus Frerotte.
— The other starting CB, Marshall, led the club in special teams tackles last season and this year he has 3 INTs and 67 tackles.
— Godfrey – Registered his 1st career sack against the Vikings last season and is a fierce tackler with 2 forced fumbles this season.
— Speaking of forced fumbles, one of the league’s best at forcing fumbles is the other starting S – Chris Harris. He had 8 forced fumbles in 2007 and has 4 of them over the past 2 seasons. Harris also has 236 tackles since 2007 and has 1 INT this year.
Tags: Darrell Bevell
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