It was clear Thursday that tackling was an emphasis for the coaches. There wasn't much that was routine about the start of practice. The pads were on, and both the linebackers and defensive backs spent much of their time during individual drills going back to the basics of tackling.
"The guys need to attack the proper hip. We don't want them to overrun the football. We want them to bend their knees, get in a striking position," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "They can simulate that in practice just by going off and tagging. What we do, we tag two hands below the waist. That makes sure guys bend their knees when they get to the ball carrier on the proper hip so that they're not overrunning the ball. That's some of what we saw."
While NFL players don't often hit teammates during in-season practices, there was plenty of work on form tackling for the linebackers, and driving through a tackling dummy for the defensive backs.
Part of it has to do their opponent on Sunday. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, the leading running back when it comes to yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus, but the Seattle Seahawks counter with No. 2 in that statistic – Marshawn Lynch.
"When you're playing against a good back, like we are this week, you want to make sure that you're wrapping up, striking, you're bending your knees and you're wrapping up," Williams said. "That was not what we were doing. We were reaching, we were lunging, we weren't closing the distance. So we're going to have another huge test in terms of that this week."
Interestingly, last week the Vikings faced the No. 3 back in yards after contact, Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins. He ran 26 times for 139 yards and a 5.3-yard average, and mobile quarterback Robert Griffin III complemented him with seven rushes for 44 yards, a 6.3-yard average. All told, the Vikings gave up 191 yards on the ground, their highest total of the season.
The defenders knew that missed tackles played a big part in Washington's success on the ground.
"I just think if you look at it, it just comes down to you either make the play or you don't. You put your hat on the ball and you've got to wrap up and you've got to get him down," DE Brian Robison said after the Redskins game. "Morris is a good back. He breaks a lot of tackles. Yeah, hats off to him. He's a hell of back and he can do some things. Bottom line is we flew in there the first half the same way we did in the second half. We just wrapped up a little better in the second half."
Halftime of that game provided an interesting locker room, according to several defenders who said Williams got after the players. A week later, the defensive coordinator downplayed his halftime speech.
"I told the guys, if it takes me or the coach to fire guys up to play, we're in trouble," Williams said. "Much ado about nothing. I think the guys were fired up on their own in terms of how we played. Like I said before, guys have pride, they're professionals and it's a lot less of me, a lot more of them why we came out and played well the second half."
LB Chad Greenway admitted he missed some tackles and called tackling "basic, fundamental football."
"That's not what we want to put on tape. That's not who we are; that's not what we work towards," Williams said. "OTAs, camp, all the hard work that guys put in, it's not showing out on the football field. Real simple message that that's not who we were and we really need to put on tape at home in our own place who we were and that's what the guys did."
WHAT'S THE RUSH?
In the last two weeks combined, the Vikings have had seven sacks, their highest two-game total since Weeks 3-4 against Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
"If the pass rush is hot like that, I can call anything. And it was hot. The guys did a great job," Williams said. "Last week I said our guys want to rush four and we rushed four and we got home. When it gets home, we'll call more of it and they were hot. So, when it is hot like that, and we certainly expect it to be, it's a good thing."
The Vikings registered four sacks of Griffin III, the second-highest total of the season for the defense, but face another mobile quarterback Sunday in Russell Wilson.
After suffering seven sacks against the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 28, Wilson has only been sacked once in the last two games.
"They are very good up front and we're good also, so it's going to be a test of wills," Williams said. "It will be a test, a four-quarter fight, and it will be to see who can impose their will on their opponent. So we'll see how hot (the pass rush) stays."
"We'll get Kevin reps there. How many? I'm not quite sure right now," Alan Williams said.
Kevin Williams had 2½ sacks, the first time in four years he has had multiple sacks in one game, playing extensive snaps at nose tackle against the Washington Redskins.
Evans "gave it a try," Frazier said, but the coach wasn't ready to say if he would be ready for Sunday. He hasn't played the last two games.
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.