Alan Williams (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
The Vikings’ run defense has been suffering the last month, but defensive coordinator Alan Williams said he found instances of players loafing when he looked at the latest film. Plus, the Lions are getting better running the ball, John Carlson is expected back and A.J. Jefferson is expected to keep his starting job.
Missed tackles, defenders out of their gaps, lack of execution. With the Vikings’ run defense continuing a descent in the NFL run-defense rankings (now ranked 18th), it’s all beginning to sound like a broken record.
“To everyone else, it may seem like a broken record, but the NFL, it’s a marathon, it’s a long season,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “There are going to be times when you may not execute the same way, but when you believe in what you do – and we do, the coaching staff does, the players do – you have to keep preaching the same thing. If you sway with the wind or sway when something does not go well or think something’s better than it is when you are playing well, it will turn into being wishy-washy, and we’re not going to do that.”
Just after the Vikings’ run defense had broken into the top 10 in NFL rankings, it has fallen apart over the last month. The Vikings have given up 100 yards or more – sometimes much more – rushing in each of the last four consecutive games. Two of those games – against Washington and Seattle – included rushing totals of more than 180 yards for the opponents.
But there may have been a new element to the defensive deficiencies, according to Williams.
“We want to make sure that we continue running to the football and there were some loafs in the (Seattle) ballgame, and those loafs were turning down hits or not running full speed or not getting up off the ground. We saw some of those, which were uncharacteristic of the defense,” Williams said.
Prior to their four-game streak of struggling against the run – when they allowed 100 yards rushing to three running backs and a quarterback – the Vikings had gone four consecutive games without yielding 100 yards rushing to an entire offense.
That included yielding only 89 yards to a San Francisco 49ers attack that now boasts the top rushing offense in the league.
“When we were shutting down teams we played – (against) the 49ers the guys crushed it – but if you looked at tape, everything was not perfect and some of those other games where the results were in terms of stats, we could still see in some places we were off a little bit,” Williams said. “It’s still a process and we’re still in that process, going step by step. You have to be careful going week by week when the reporters say, ‘Man, they’re crushing it,’ that you always reel guys back in and say, ‘Hey, guys, here’s where we’re wrong and if we do not do these things correctly, these are going to be the results.’ It just so happens these last three weeks those are the results of being off just a little bit.”
The Lions aren’t known as a strong rushing team – they are ranked 14th in the league – but they have improved of late. In two of the last four games, the Lions have exceeded 130 yards rushing, including a 149-yard effort against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
“They are running the ball much more effectively than they have been in the past or the beginning of the season,” Williams said.
“They’ve narrowed down what they’re doing and they’re doing it extremely, extremely well. And the running backs have helped. They’re making good cuts; they’re making good decisions.”
The Lions have also started using offensive lineman Riley Reiff as an extra blocker. He has started the last two games in that capacity after being drafted No. 23 overall.
“We were joking the other day. We said he’s a little bit like – and this may be a stretch in some sense – but a little bit like Adrian Peterson in that you can’t simulate him in the practice,” Williams said. “… He does a great job, he’s athletic, he gets his pads down. He’s going to be a handful.”
CARLSON ON TRACK
John Carlson is expected to play in his first game since suffering a concussion Oct. 21 while covering a punt against Arizona.
“We do have some two-tight end concepts, which we normally have in every week, and we’ll be glad to get him back in there. Really glad he’s healthy again,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said.
Carlson has only three catches for 8 yards after playing in seven games (four starts). Musgrave admitted that the two-tight end sets that were talked about so much in the offseason haven’t produced up to expectations.
“Not yet. Both those guys had tremendous springs and started out in Mankato those first couple days until John got hurt (with a knee injury) in that first padded practice or second padded practice,” Musgrave said. “We had high hopes. I think we can still realize those. I think it’s going to come to fruition and we’ll get that started this week if we can get him back out there, which we expect to.”
JEFFERSON TO START
With Chris Cook sidelined until at least late December with a broken arm, the Vikings started A.J. Jefferson for the first time on Sunday. Third-round pick Josh Robison had gotten two starts previously – one in the nickel defense and one in the base defense – but Minnesota went with the bigger (6-foot-1) Jefferson. Acquired in a trade with Arizona just before the start of the season, Jefferson played in all 75 defensive snaps against Seattle and did enough to keep his starting job, according to Williams.
“More than enough. We like what A.J. is doing. It’s a good fit for us,” Williams said. “That brings Josh in in the nickel. And it’s not just A.J. there. It has something to do with Josh. We like that rotation. We like how we’re bringing Josh along in terms of the defense. In terms of the defense doing well and Josh doing his part in the nickel, we like that rotation.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.