After the Vikings lost, 33-27, on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, former Minnesota offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the loss.
McKinnie, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens after being released by the Vikings in training camp, praised rookie quarterback Christian Ponder’s first start. But then he offered his opinion of Minnesota’s defense.
McKinnie tweeted: “#My Thoughts Bring Pat Williams back, he was the vocal leader of the defense, that means a lot believe it or not.”
Do the current Vikings agree with McKinnie’s assertion that Williams, a now 39-year-old three-time Pro Bowl selection, is the missing link in the middle of the defense?
“Pat’s a great player and that’s nothing to take away from Pat, but to sit here and say we’re missing Pat, that basically says we don’t trust our guys that in our in there,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “So, I disagree with his statement. And he’s not in our locker room. So, for him to make a statement like that, we don’t care what he says.”
The Vikings’ usual stout run defense has held up well this season, ranking fourth in the NFL while allowing just 87.9 yards per game. Williams, who is still a free agent after not being re-signed by Minnesota in the offseason, was considered a key cog in the team’s ability to stop the run the past six seasons.
With Williams in the middle of the defense, Minnesota was first or second in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed for four straight years — including leading the league from 2006-08 — before finishing ninth last season. Williams slipped to 30 tackles in 2010, his lowest total since becoming a full-time starter in 2001, and the Vikings made the decision to move away from him.
“Pat was a great player for us, as we all know,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He did a lot of good things while he was here, but we have some guys that are capable and they’re fighting and scratching and clawing. We know where we have to improve to get our team and our defense where it needs to be and we’re going to continue to work that.”
The team signed Remi Ayodele from New Orleans during the offseason, and he has assumed Williams’ starting spot at nose tackle. But Ayodele has been in on just eight tackles while starting each of the Vikings’ seven games. Ayodele had started 29 games over the past two seasons for the Saints and tallied 126 tackles during that time.
“They play their scheme a little different than what I played in New Orleans, but it’s nothing that it can’t be done,” said Ayodele, 28. “I mean, we’re professionals. So, just got to get adjusted and do what you’re asked.”
Backup Fred Evans’ playing time has increased recently. With Ayodele dealing with an ankle injury last week, Evans came through with six tackles. He has 21 tackles this season, and Frazier has taken notice of his play.
“He’s doing some positive things,” Frazier said. “He’s really improved as a player, which has gained him more reps. We’ll see how he progresses. We’re going to need him to play well on Sunday.”
Though the team hopes to get more from Evans and Ayodele from a production standpoint, there is one player that misses Pat Williams – that’s Kevin Williams, who lined up next to Pat for the past six years and together formed the formidable “Williams Wall.”
“I don’t know if the defense is missing him, but I miss him,” Kevin Williams said. “It made my job a lot easier. But we’ve got these guys, they’re stepping up and we’ve got to roll with what we’ve got. We can’t cry over spilled milk. We’d love to have him back, but things didn’t work that way. So, we’ve got to go with what we have and those young guys are doing well.”
Pat Williams, while known as a run stopper, was also able to push the pocket at times on pass plays. This season, the team’s pass defense ranks 29th in the league, even though standout defensive end Jared Allen is leading the NFL in sacks with 11.5 and Robison has added 4.5 sacks from the other side.
Ayodele and Evans have accounted for just three quarterback hurries, though the Vikings have used different packages in passing situations, which takes the nose tackle off of the field. Still, Frazier knows the team needs more of a push from the middle of the defensive line.
“We’re stressing that with our noses and trying to get a little more,” Frazier said.
As for McKinnie’s opinion that Pat Williams was the vocal leader of the defense, the Vikings believe they have an answer for that as well. Allen is putting together an all-pro type season and just as important he has tried to take more of a leadership role in the locker room and on the sideline.
“Pat was great in that; he was a tremendous leader for us,” Frazier said. “But the way Jared Allen has stepped up, the way Adrian (Peterson) has stepped up, we’ve got some guys that are doing a great job from a leadership standpoint. For our guys to play as hard as they’ve played when our season hasn’t gone quite the way we wanted it to go, you have to credit the leadership we have on this time.”
Brian Hall writes about the Vikings for Fox Sports North.