A Learning Opportunity For Young Vikings D-Linemen

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2011 – 8:39 am

I was immensely disappointed while standing in the locker room after Sunday’s season-opening loss to the San Diego Chargers. But as I stood just outside of a media huddle surrounding DE Jared Allen’s locker, I saw and heard reason for encouragement and optimism.

Allen had a great game against San Diego, tallying 6 tackles to go along with half a sack and an INT. The Vikings were not able to pressure Chargers QB Philip Rivers enough, but it wasn’t because of Allen. Regardless, when the result goes against the Vikings, it’s Allen – a leader on the Vikings defense – who has to answer the critics.

On Sunday, he did a good job of that and provided outstanding leadership along the way. Flanked to the right of Allen’s locker in the visiting locker room at Qualcomm Stadium were Brian Robison, Letroy Guion and Christian Ballard; Fred Evans was in the area, too. I’d classify all four of them – even 4-year veteran Robison because he’s a first-year starter in 2011 – as young defensive linemen. And they were sitting at their lockers when Allen was meeting with reporters.

Allen, coming off a great performance in a game his team lost, answered questions with grace and never pointed a finger at anyone but himself or the team as a whole.

“We blew it, man…We just give them the end of the game. We give them 15 yards in penalties. That’s not acceptable.”

Allen didn’t give San Diego anything in penalties. But he lumped himself into the group of players who committed three, yes three, encroachment/offsides penalties in the game’s final series, which eventually gave San Diego a 1st down via penalty and allowed Rivers and Co. to line up in the victory formation and kneel on the ball, rather than have to bite, scratch and crawl their way for a game-winning 1st down into the teeth of the Vikings run defense.

It was a good learning opportunity for those young defensive linemen, who were playing without perennial Pro Bowler Kevin Williams. I could tell they were listening to Allen, or at least could hear Allen, as he answered the questions and took responsibility for the defense’s performance. If I were a young player on a team with great veteran leadership that was expecting to return to the playoffs, I wouldn’t want to be a part of the reason one of the veterans had to answser questions about making mental mistakes at the end of a big game.

I’ve said for the past three weeks that Allen had the best training camp of any Vikings player, and that he’s going to be a productive player for the defense this season. It’s great to see Allen’s productivity is transcending the football field and entering the locker room, where the Vikings have a host of young defensive linemen who need to continue developing.

If those young defensive linemen follow Allen’s lead, their development won’t take long.

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Vikings Secondary Hangs Tough vs. Rivers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2011 – 7:46 am

Chargers QB Philip Rivers’ box score from Sunday’s game against the Vikings looks pretty good at surface level: 33 of 48 for 335 yards, with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. As a result, it’s easy to scoff at the title of this blog entry and write off the secondary for a poor performance.

If you go deeper than surface level, though, you’ll discover that the Vikings secondary actually played well. Rivers is an elite NFL passer and he dropped back to pass a whopping 48 times on Sunday. While 335 yards is a lot, when you break it down to average yards per attempt, it’s 6.9 yards per attempt, which is a full yard below Rivers’ career average. Also, Rivers registered an 85.0 passer rating on Sunday, which is a 14+ points behind his career passer rating.

Furthermore, San Diego’s top WR is Vincent Jackson and the Vikings held him in check. Jackson had just 2 catches for 31 yards on the day and was a complete non-factor. Perhaps the best pass-catching option for the Chargers is TE Antonio Gates, and while he tallied 74 receiving yards, it came on 8 receptions, which is just 9.3 yards per catch (Gates’ career yards per catch is 13.2).

What didn’t help the secondary was the Vikings inability to pressure Rivers. Yes, the Vikings registered a pair of sacks, but two sacks in 48 dropbacks is not enough. DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison were factors, so give them some credit for hanging in there. Where I thought the Vikings struggled a touch was in the middle, and that’s largely because Kevin Williams was not playing. The Vikings missed him. He’s a perennial Pro Bowler who is double-teamed nearly every snap. DTs Remi Ayodele, Fred Evans, Letroy Guion and Christian Ballard are solid contributors, but they’re success in this defense is predicated on Williams being in the game and taking up two blockers. That wasn’t the case on Sunday and the Chargers were able to take advantage.

All told, give the Vikings secondary credit. They held Rivers in check even though he dropped back to pass nearly 50 times. I’m willing to say that if Rivers drops back 50 times against every team in the NFL, most defenses allow more than the 335 yards the Vikings allowed.

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