NFC North: Alan Williams

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Early in his time as the Minnesota Vikings' coach, Mike Zimmer sat the team's front office and scouting staff down in a film room, and turned on tape of the Cincinnati Bengals' defense. He pointed out the responsibilities of each player in the Bengals' scheme, outlining what he'd want those players to do when Zimmer brings that defense to the Vikings.

Quickly, general manager Rick Spielman said, the people in the room realized they'd be able to look at some players that had been incompatible with the Cover-2 schemes of the Vikings' past.

"There are guys that are good football players that we may not have been interested in, in the past, that we’ll be interested in now because of what we learned so far of listening to Zim speak," Spielman said on Friday.

So what does that mean on a practical level? Well, I'd say a couple things. First, if Zimmer is using the Bengals' defense as a template for what he wants in Minnesota, I think we can largely put the idea of a 3-4 scheme to bed. Zimmer has coached a 3-4 defense in the past, as has defensive coordinator George Edwards, but Zimmer has typically preferred a 4-3 defense, and told reporters at the Vikings' Arctic Blast event last weekend that he hired Edwards in part because he'd been working in Miami under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, the former Bengals secondary coach who had been running Zimmer's defense in Miami.

It also means, though, that the Vikings can probably take a longer look at corners who play more man coverage and linebackers who can play a bigger role in the pass rush than they've had in the past. Zimmer's defense figures to be more aggressive than Leslie Frazier's and Alan Williams' were, and the Vikings will find their personnel accordingly. To paraphrase the famous line of Zimmer's mentor, Bill Parcells, the Vikings' front office has been given a different grocery list to cook a different meal.

Spielman mentioned the Vikings might be able to take a look at smaller defensive ends that many teams view as 3-4 outside linebackers. In the past, the Vikings haven't necessarily pursued those players, but they might have more interest in them now. They could be nickel rushers, such as Everson Griffen (a similar body type) has been, or might even fit as linebackers in a 4-3 under Zimmer. Remember, former Steelers linebacker James Harrison -- one of the best pass-rushing 3-4 linebackers in the league -- shifted to the strong-side linebacker role in the Bengals' 4-3 scheme under Zimmer last season.

The Bengals' defensive ends were on the taller side, but they made effective use of shorter pass-rushers like Wallace Gilberry. That makes me think it's even more likely Griffen will be back with the Vikings next season, and it could cast a wider net for linebacker types than the Vikings have used in the past. Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, who is a free agent this March, could also make sense for the Vikings. Essentially, they're able to consider players they might have previously stamped as poor fits for their scheme.

"We were on a particular player and it was, 'This is what his skill set is. Can he fit or can he not fit in the system?'" Spielman said. "In the past, he couldn’t fit in the system but now he does fit in the system. So as we're talking and going through it learning about what we’re doing defensively, offensively, but more on a defensive of the ball (we were), I don’t want to say retrained, but we’re looking at guys differently than we may have in the past."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Now that the Minnesota Vikings have finally announced their coaching staff for the 2014 season, we can take a look at the list of assistants and see what trends emerge with the group new coach Mike Zimmer has put together. And as it turns out, it won't take quite as long to peruse the list as it did with predecessor Leslie Frazier's staff.

The Vikings currently have just 17 coordinators and assistants on their staff, down from the 20 they carried last season under Frazier. As Packers reporter Rob Demovsky pointed out this morning, that makes the Vikings' staff the smallest in the division and one of the smallest in the NFL.

That's not to say a leaner staff is good or bad -- it's simply a different way of doing business -- but it does offer some insight into how Zimmer might conduct business. In Cincinnati last season, he had five position coaches under him while he was the Bengals' defensive coordinator (former Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams had six).

It could also help Zimmer that he has offensive and defensive coordinators in Norv Turner and George Edwards who have done those jobs before. Frazier, on the other hand, was working with first-time coordinators Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams, who both seemed to struggle at times in Minnesota. Turner also has 13 seasons of NFL head coaching experience on his resume.

"We already talked a little bit about things. Scheduling, how we did things," Turner said. "He’s an extremely experienced coach. He's been with some outstanding people. I’m sure he has strong opinions of how he wants to do things and if there’s something he wants to lean on me, I’ll give him my opinion."

It's always possible the Vikings could add another coach or two, but assuming the staff is set for now, here are some factoids about each group:

The 17 coordinators and assistants on Zimmer's staff have a combined 278 years of coaching experience, for an average of 16.35 years per coach. Five coaches -- Turner, Edwards, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, defensive backs coach Jerry Gray and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson -- have at least been coordinators for other teams before joining Zimmer's staff.

Frazier's 2013 staff had 336 years of experience across 20 coaches, or an average of 16.8 years per coach. Three coaches -- Priefer, Davidson and assistant linebackers coach Mike Singletary -- had at least been coordinators before coming to the Vikings. A fourth, assistant linebackers coach Fred Pagac, was the Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2010-11 until Frazier demoted him to assistant linebackers coach.

W2W4: Eagles at Vikings

December, 14, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We've got a few items to pass along at the end of the week, as we get you ready for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon. Here we go:

Cole will be tested: Audie Cole has played well in his first three games at middle linebacker, but Sunday will likely bring the biggest challenge he's faced so far. He'll have to coordinate the Vikings' defense against the Eagles' fast-paced offense. He'll have to cover tight end Brent Celek, and like the rest of the Minnesota defense, he'll have his hands full with running back LeSean McCoy, who leads the league in both rushing and all-purpose yards. Cole gave up two catches on the Baltimore Ravens' game-winning touchdown drive last week, including Marlon Brown's touchdown with four seconds left. But defensive coordinator Alan Williams said this week that Cole only needed to make a small adjustment to be in position to make a play. "[On] two plays Audie was close, but not close enough," Williams said. "I think that comes from experience knowing that, hey, if they catch it in front of you, no big deal, don’t give up one over the top.”

Gerhart has Kelly's respect: If Adrian Peterson is out on Sunday with a sprained right foot and Toby Gerhart can return from a strained right hamstring to be the Vikings' main running back against the Eagles, he'll face an old foe in Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly, who saw plenty of the former Stanford running back when he was the coach at Oregon. "He played against us when I was at Oregon and he had a 39carry game for, I think, 2,085 yards it seemed like to me," Kelly said this week. "I think Toby is one of the really, really good backs in this league. He just isn't on the field that much because of who Adrian Peterson is. I don't think it changes that much [about the Vikings' scheme], to be honest with you."

Secondary injuries come at a bad time: The Vikings almost certainly will have a handful of players in unfamiliar positions in the secondary on Sunday, and against a spread offense like Philadelphia's, they'll have to hope they can survive without at least two -- and possibly three -- of their top three corners. They had been playing more man coverage, with some success, in recent weeks, but they might have to get away from that plan on Sunday with Xavier Rhodes doubtful because of a sprained ankle. Chris Cook is questionable because of a knee injury, and if the oft-injured cornerback can play, he'll likely draw the unenviable matchup of shadowing the explosive DeSean Jackson, who has 65 catches for 1,080 yards.

Much expected of Cassel: With Peterson's status in doubt at the beginning of the week, it seemed like a strong possibility the Vikings would go back to Matt Cassel at quarterback, partially because they haven't been as willing to lean on the passing game as much with Christian Ponder as they have with Cassel. He has connected on 10 of his 19 throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information, whereas Ponder has hit just 12 of 31 throws that went at least 20 yards in the air. Cassel also is the only Vikings quarterback to throw for at least 240 yards in a game this season, and he's attempted at least 30 passes in three of the four games where he's started or played extensively. Those are fairly modest benchmarks for most teams, but in a game where the Vikings might need to keep up with the Eagles, and might not have Peterson, starting Cassel made sense.

Vikings honoring All-MOA Field team: At halftime on Sunday, the Vikings will recognize the 28-man All-Mall of America Field team, as voted on by fans throughout the season. The team is heavy on players from coach Dennis Green's teams in the 1990s -- Green is the coach of the team, and 16 of the 27 players on the team played at least one season for him. The Vikings said 20 of the 28 members of the team are expected to be at the game on Sunday. We're particularly interested to see if Randy Moss shows up (which we doubt), or if the Vikings invited back Antoine Winfield after they cut the cornerback in the spring, leading to a bit of a rift between the three-time Pro Bowler and the team. And if Green is there? That's always got the potential to be interesting.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings have played a Cover-2 defense ever since Aaron Rodgers became the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback, directing an offense that's leaned as heavily on the pass as any in the NFL. So it's made sense that the Vikings' only two times stacking the box against the Packers came in Rodgers' first career start -- when Packers coach Mike McCarthy was being more conservative with the offense -- and his most recent matchup against the Vikings in October, when the Packers ran for 182 yards, held the ball for more than 40 minutes and pounded the Vikings with a bruising running game.

In both of those matchups, the Vikings put eight or more defenders in the box 11 times, according to ESPN Stats and Information. In the other nine matchups? They only did it a total of 47 times. In the four times they've beaten Rodgers, the Vikings showed the Packers an eight-man front on six, four, one and one snaps. They've usually opted to sit back in coverage and let their defensive line come after Rodgers.

But the 2011 NFL MVP won't be the quarterback for the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Scott Tolzien will be, and in the three games the Packers have played since Rodgers has been out, they've seen teams defend them in a similar manner to what the Vikings often see with Adrian Peterson. The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants put eight or more defenders in the box 48.4 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats and Information (via our Rob Demovsky). The Packers had seen that defense 25.5 percent of the time against Rodgers.

Sunday could see the Vikings take a similar approach to stop running back Eddie Lacy; they've used eight or more defenders in the box on 72 snaps this year, which is the ninth-most in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Information. But defensive coordinator Alan Williams was quick to point out how willing the Packers have still been to throw deep with Tolzien, and with a depleted secondary, the Vikings could decide against loading up on Lacy, too.

"That's what type of team they are," Williams said of the deep shots. "I think every team in the NFL has the next-man-up mentality, and they're no different. He's a NFL quarterback, and he's quite capable of making those plays. If he's making them, I fully expect them to keep doing them. The receivers are making big plays for him."

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 10

November, 8, 2013
A review of four hot issues after the Minnesota Vikings' 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night:

Williams 'more fired up than I've ever seen him': With the Vikings down 24-14 at halftime, having gone 14 straight possessions at home without forcing a punt, defensive coordinator Alan Williams turned up the volume. He got "more fired up than I've ever seen him," according to coach Leslie Frazier, and let defenders know they weren't getting the job done. In the second half, the Vikings allowed just 145 yards and three points. It has been a tough season for the second-year defensive coordinator, and things reached a head last week when defensive linemen Brian Robison and Kevin Williams criticized Williams' decision not to bring more pressure on the Cowboys' game-winning drive. On the final three plays of the game Thursday, the Vikings brought six, six and five men, respectively, to pressure Robert Griffin III.

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltCordarrelle Patterson scored his first touchdown on offense in the Vikings' win over the Redskins.
Patterson catches -- not returns -- a TD: Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson only returned two kickoffs for 37 yards, as the Redskins kicked off short in an effort to avoid the explosive return man. But Patterson finally got more involved in the Vikings passing game, playing 21 snaps and catching a 19-yard touchdown from Christian Ponder on a crossing route. The Vikings used all five of their receivers for at least 17 snaps Thursday night, as they put Ponder in the shotgun for 14 of his 23 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

New (old) nose tackle: With both Letroy Guion and Fred Evans out because of injuries, the Vikings needed to move someone to nose tackle, and that job fell to the man who has defined the 3-technique tackle position for a decade: Kevin Williams. The six-time Pro Bowler lined up at the nose all night, with rookie Sharrif Floyd at the 3-technique tackle, and playing a season-high 63 snaps, Williams had his finest night in several years. He posted 2.5 sacks -- the third-highest single-game total of his career. "It's just something we had to do," Williams said. "Somebody had to get in there, and I just had to embrace."

Last-minute timeouts: For the fifth time this year, the Vikings defense was on the field trying to protect a lead in the final minute of the game. The defense had failed in three of the first four instances, including last week in Dallas. But with the Redskins driving Thursday night, Frazier called a pair of timeouts. The Redskins were out of timeouts, and the move appeared to irk a few of Frazier's players -- cameras caught wide receiver Greg Jennings throwing his hands up after the second timeout -- but Frazier said he wanted to give his defense, which spent 36:01 on the field, a break, while trying to save some time in case the Vikings got the ball back. "I’ve learned in my short time as a head coach that you better do it the way you believe in doing it because you don’t have a chance to do this for very long, so you don’t want to have any regrets," Frazier said. "Our players, they’re thinking about what they need to think about, but I’ve got to think about the total picture, so no big deal."

Vikings injury report: Eight sit out

November, 5, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings were missing eight players in their only full practice before Thursday's game with the Washington Redskins, and another three -- cornerbacks Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson -- were limited by injuries. It seems likely that all three corners will play on Thursday, but the Vikings could be missing a number of other starters against the Redskins.

Safety Jamarca Sanford, whose groin injury is only the latest ailment he's had this season, seems like he will be hard-pressed to return for the game; defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Robert Blanton will get playing time again with Mistral Raymond alongside Andrew Sendejo, which would seem to indicate the Vikings will be without Sanford for the second straight game.

Left tackle Phil Loadholt will definitely miss Thursday's game with a concussion, coach Leslie Frazier said, which means the Vikings will start J'Marcus Webb at right tackle and break up a group (Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Loadholt) that has started every game since the beginning of the 2012 season. Johnson also sat out of practice on Tuesday with an elbow injury, while Joe Berger worked at left guard.

And the Vikings could also be thin at defensive tackle; both Letroy Guion (chest/knee) and Fred Evans (knee) sat out on Tuesday. That could leave the Vikings with just three healthy defensive tackles for Thursday, in Sharrif Floyd, Kevin Williams and Chase Baker.

“There are definitely challenges (to a short week), especially if you have injuries like we do," coach Leslie Frazier said in a conference call with Washington reporters. "Trying to get everybody on the field in a short week, in our case -- if we had a couple extra days, there are some guys who probably would be able to play on Sunday, but because we’re playing on Thursday, they’re not going to be able to make the game."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said he didn't take Brian Robison and Kevin Williams' criticism of his late-game play calls "in a negative way at all" after Sunday's 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, saying their frustration was a sign of how badly they want to win.

The Vikings dropped one of their defensive linemen into coverage on four of the nine plays on the Cowboys' 90-yard march to win the game. Minnesota only pressured Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo once on the drive, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after getting to him on 36 percent of his dropbacks before that. Afterward, both Williams and Robison criticized the decision, saying the Vikings had been getting to Romo effectively all day.

[+] EnlargeAlan Williams
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliMinnesota defensive coordinator Alan Williams saw Tony Romo lead a late 90-yard TD drive to rally the Cowboys past the Vikings Sunday.
Williams said the Vikings rushed three players on four plays partly to deal with the Cowboys' screen passes; on two of those plays the Vikings dropped Everson Griffen (who might be their quickest lineman) into coverage with the hope he could make an open-field tackle if Romo got rid of the ball quickly.

"We’ve been plagued by screens all year long. Our rush was heating them up for sure so the balls were coming out extremely quick," Williams said. "We were getting there, even the series beforehand. We heated them up in the first half, but they were max-protecting and they were throwing screens. That first play [of the final drive], just like we wanted to, Everson was dropping and ran to the screen. That series, I think they ran three of them. It just so happens we dialed it up right. Our guys like to be rushing. They don’t want to be dropping. I’m fine with that. Everywhere I’ve been it’s been like that."

It's worth noting that on one of the two times the Vikings did bring extra pressure, rushing five on the Cowboys' fifth play of the drive, Romo hit Dez Bryant for a 34-yard gain on a slant, though Williams said he wasn't interested in using that play to prove his point. "It’s not to say, hey, I’m right or someone else is right or someone is wrong," he said. "That doesn’t solve or get what we’re trying to get done, which is to win ballgames."

Williams said he's heard similar concerns from pass-rushers before, adding Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis never liked being dropped into coverage when Williams worked with them in Indianapolis. He said he reviews his scheme for each play when the Vikings review film on Mondays, explaining why he called what he called, and judging from what defensive end Jared Allen said on Tuesday -- asking for "yes or no" questions because "anything more than that will get us in trouble" -- it's safe to assume the Vikings' coaches made an effort to close ranks when the team assembled after the game on Monday.

What remains to be seen is whether players will raise further issues with the Vikings' scheme in future weeks; several aired frustrations privately after the team lost a Week 2 game to the Chicago Bears in similar fashion, but Sunday was the first time players offered public criticism of the game plan. At least at this point, though, Williams says things haven't reached a threshold that would concern him.

"Good players ask why. ‘Hey coach, why did you make this decision? What were you thinking?’" Williams said. "I have no problem whatsoever about a guy asking me why. We explain it, we talk about it and we move on."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The day after he criticized the Minnesota Vikings' defensive strategy on the final drive of a 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, defensive end Brian Robison stood by his comments, saying "I don't think I said anything out of line" when he vented about the team's decision to pull back its pass rush on the Cowboys' 90-yard march. Both Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams were critical of the approach on Sunday, and coach Leslie Frazier didn't exactly admonish either player for speaking his mind on Monday.

"You know, I respect their opinions and I know how competitive they are and how much they want to win," Frazier said Monday. "I like for them to talk to their coaches myself about whatever concerns they may have and try to get those worked out. But I do understand their frustration and I respect their opinions."

Both Robison and Williams were upset with the Vikings' decision to rush Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo with just three defenders after the Vikings had sacked him three times and pressured him on 36 percent of his dropbacks before the final drive, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Romo went 7-of-9 for 90 yards and a score on the final drive, completing six of his seven passes for 56 yards when he faced four or fewer pass-rushers. It's worth noting, though, that the Vikings rushed five defenders on the biggest play of the drive -- Romo's 32-yard completion to Dez Bryant -- though the receiver got free after safety Andrew Sendejo tried to jump Bryant's route and safety Mistral Raymond missed a tackle.

"That one we could have done something a little bit different," Frazier said. "We called a pressure. They blocked the pressure. They had some tells from an offensive standpoint that could have helped us there. That’s the one play that we might have done something a little different.”

All told, the Vikings dropped a defensive tackle into coverage on four of the final nine plays, which was more often than they brought any other kind of rush on the final drive. They rushed four linemen three times -- including on the game-winning touchdown -- and brought extra pressure twice, sending six defenders on Romo's incompletion to Terrance Williams and five on the completion to Bryant.

They only pressured Romo once on the drive, nearly reaching him with their six-man pressure. That fact might have helped Frazier make his point when he met with players on Monday afternoon that the call is only half of the equation.

"[It's] just being able to point out some of the things why it has to be reciprocal," Frazier said. "Not only what [offensive coordinator] Bill [Musgrave] or [defensive coordinator] Alan [Williams] calls but also our execution and making sure that we’re in sync with how to get that done. I think some of the things we’ll go through this afternoon will help us if we’re in those situations again to be much better."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- On Thursday morning, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams bounded up to the podium for his weekly news conference, fresh off a discussion with defensive end Brian Robison and safety Jamarca Sanford about the importance of staying the course on defense. Williams then repeated the same themes to reporters, asserting that the Vikings are facing a difficult phase of the growing process with a young defense.

"When you do lose you don’t just say, 'Hey, we’re going to find a different way or go outside your core values,'" Williams said Thursday. "You want to stick with what you’re doing if you truly believe in that and you want to keep grinding away because there are negative voices out there to say, 'Hey, do something else, fix something else.' Other people can fix it, or other people outside the organization can make it better and that’s not the case."

On Sunday afternoon, following the Vikings' third last-minute loss of the season, Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams didn't sound like players who were sold on the current direction.
"There are some things going on internally that are not allowing us to close out games," Robison said, pausing for nine seconds after he was asked about the final drive of the game, as he searched for a diplomatic response. "We've got to make sure we handle it in-house and we get it done."

The most glaring -- and to Robison and Williams, the most galling -- example on Sunday came on the Vikings' final drive, when a defensive line that had put consistent pressure on Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was corralled by a conservative scheme. The Vikings had pressured Romo on 36 percent of his dropbacks before the final drive, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but was only pressured once on the final drive, and hit seven of his nine passes on a 90-yard drive that led to the winning score.

On the drive, Romo was 6-for-7 for 56 yards and a touchdown when facing four or fewer pass rushers. And on many of those plays, Romo was only facing three rushers, with the Vikings dropping a defensive tackle into pass coverage.

"I was excited about the game plan this week. I thought it was a good game plan," Robison said. "For 99 percent of the game, it worked out pretty well for us."

Both Robison and Williams are part of the Vikings' leadership council that meets weekly with coach Leslie Frazier, and it stands to reason both players' comments about the defensive scheme will come up this week. Frazier uses the meetings as a way to stay apprised of issues in the locker room and communicate his themes for the week. Players said the meetings were an integral part of keeping the team together during a four-game winning streak that lifted the Vikings to the playoffs.

But now, it might take something stronger to keep the team from crumbling with the Vikings at 1-7.

"We'd just like to get a four-man rush," Williams said. "Release the big guys, let them push the pocket. We did it all day, and then we just start dropping a guy the last drive on the line. I can say from that standpoint, it's kind of terrible when you're trying to stop them. I know they went empty (backfield), trying to throw it quick and all, but if we make them hold it one second, we can probably get there."
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

Many Vikings fans will remember Brett Favre's final plays with the team as part of the coda to the team's macabre 2010 season. It was at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium in December -- the Vikings were playing the Chicago Bears there after the Metrodome roof had collapsed -- and the field was not equipped with a heating system. On a cold night in Minneapolis, the surface "was like concrete," Favre said.

Favre hit his head on the turf and sustained a concussion that night, and it finally pushed him to do what he'd been unable to do for three seasons: walk definitively into retirement.

"As I was getting to the sidelines, I thought, 'Now if there was ever a time where the writing is on the wall, this is it,'" Favre recalled in an interview earlier this month with Sportstalk 570 Powered by ESPN in Washington this month. "[I] went in, took a shower, got some hot cocoa, got a hot dog and said, 'That's it.'"

In the interview, recounted here in this piece by ESPN's Johnette Howard, Favre admitted he is already experiencing memory loss at age 44, and suspects the many concussions he sustained during his legendary 20-year career. As many players as have come forward with chilling revelations about the physical toll of football, I'm not sure too many players can do it more effectively than Favre.

He built his reputation, more than anything, on being there every week, for 321 consecutive starts (including playoff games). He played through broken thumbs, sprained knees, dislocated shoulders and even concussions. During a 2004 game against the New York Giants, he sneaked back onto the field after sustaining a concussion and was celebrated for throwing a touchdown pass before leaving for good. At the time, no one was thinking -- no one knew -- what it was costing Favre.

He battled an addiction to painkillers in the 1990s with the Packers, all in the name of staying on the field. Eventually, he signed with the Vikings in part to prove to his former team they had moved on from him too early. That move made for great theater, but it cast a wedge between Favre and Packers fans that's just now starting to dissolve.

Most Vikings fans probably don't care much about when Favre gets his number retired in Green Bay, or when he is fully reconciled with the team for whom he played for 16 seasons. But what if the Packers wait another five years to bring Favre back, and he can't remember significant parts of his career?

That would be a sad footnote to his career, and a chilling testament to the toll that his 20-year career as the NFL's ultimate tough guy ended up costing Favre.

Here are Friday's other Vikings stories of note:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When he talks to reporters each Thursday, defensive coordinator Alan Williams usually arrives at the podium in the Minnesota Vikings' fieldhouse with a few pleasantries before taking questions. On this Thursday, though, Williams arrived at the podium with an opening statement that almost seemed like something he had rehearsed.

He had just finished talking to defensive end Brian Robison and safety Jamarca Sanford about similar themes, Williams said, before he jumped into a spirited set of talking points about staying the course and trusting the Vikings' system.

[+] EnlargeBrian Robison
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesBrian Robison, 96, and the Vikings' defenders are working through a frustrating start to the season.
"Just talking with some of our players about kind of how we do things here in Minnesota -- just about our way of doing things and what we expect in terms of expectations and we’re still building that," Williams said. "We’re still building the foundation to win football games, and we want this to be the model of the NFL. To be that, you have to build a firm foundation. You have to go through, sometimes, some growing pains, which we are right now. You don’t want it, but to build something solid, sometimes you have to go with that. It’s no different from raising your kids, building a family, building a top-notch organization."

The timing was interesting, considering how the Vikings' porous defense seemed to have bottomed out on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Minnesota allowed a season-high 44 points (though seven came off Micah Hyde's punt return) and the Packers' 464 yards trailed only the Detroit Lions' 469 in the season opener for the most the Vikings have given up. During the game, cameras caught defensive end Jared Allen on the sideline, saying, "This is the worst defense I've ever been on," though Allen said on Wednesday he wasn't making a sweeping statement about the players or scheme.

Players haven't outwardly criticized the Vikings' scheme, though several made veiled comments after the Vikings' last-minute loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 2, and veterans like Robison, Allen and Chad Greenway have expressed some frustration since then. The Vikings don't play quite as much anymore in the Cover-2 scheme they've used for years under Williams, Frazier and Mike Tomlin, but they are one of the few remaining teams that employ it as their base defense. And in a scheme that requires a defense to be strong up the middle, the Vikings have been under additional stress this season with safety Harrison Smith possibly out for the season because of turf toe and middle linebacker Erin Henderson in a new position.

"It’s one thing that you reinforce all the time because guys go home, they have wives, they read the paper, they look at the news," Williams said. "You have all these voices that say,'Hey, there are different ways of doing things.' I do know that it’s something that you continue to reinforce, even when you’re winning. That’s something that even last year we reinforced, but it just wasn’t a major deal because you’re winning ballgames. Even when you’re winning, sometimes guys think, you know what, I have a different way of doing something so I can even get more sacks or more interceptions or more tackles. You say, 'Nope. We have a core value of the way we do things, and that’s how you win championships.'"

However noble that approach might be, Williams could be on borrowed time to work with the Vikings' defense, if the front office would decide to make coaching changes following a season that has started with six losses in seven games. The Vikings gambled on youth in some key spots of their defense, and they're paying the price for that -- "It's not like there are quick fixes that you can bring in 11 Pro Bowlers," Williams said.

At this point, the best hope for the Vikings might be that young players, particularly in the secondary, show enough improvement from now until the end of the season that the coaching staff gets another shot to work with them.

"At some point you’re going to find out that the rock is going to break," Williams said. "It is going to break for you. You are going to see results. You may not see results now in terms of wins. But guys are improving. They are getting better. I know in the NFL, it’s a matter of, hey, the wins are really what counts, but sometimes the wins cover up a multitude of sins or stinks, and you’ve just got to keep grinding.”

Josh Robinson, on his growing pains

October, 30, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For as much as the Minnesota Vikings have continued to play Josh Robinson as their slot cornerback through all of his struggles this season, they've also been consistent about managing expectations for the second-year player. Coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams have said they expected the Vikings' young secondary -- and Robinson in particular -- to struggle this season, acknowledging the team's porous pass defense as a cost of doing business with so many inexperienced players.

[+] EnlargeJosh Robinson and Jordy Nelson
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers picked on Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson nine times Sunday night, collecting 81 yards and a touchdown to Jordy Nelson.
Robinson said he got the same message from coaches that the media received -- that his first experience in the slot was going to be a trying process -- and said he's been told he is improving each week, even as the Vikings have started to rotate Marcus Sherels in the slot along with Robinson. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers targeted Robinson nine times on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus, and hit on eight throws for 81 yards and a touchdown.

The scoring pass, on which Rodgers hit 6-foot-3 receiver Jordy Nelson over the top of the 5-foot-10 Robinson's head, might have gone differently had Robinson turned his head to find the ball. But Robinson's coverage was tight enough that Rodgers had to fit the ball into a tiny window, and the 2011 NFL MVP did that.

"There wasn't too much more I could've done, except just try to fight once the ball was there," Robinson said. "The ball was put in a great spot. I actually watched a copy of it at home, and it was a good throw. You can't really do much about it."

Robinson has been targeted regularly, and successfully, by quarterbacks throughout the season. He has allowed 50 catches in 56 targets, according to Pro Football Focus, and quarterbacks are 38-for-40 for 426 yards against him in the slot, with 276 of those yards coming after the catch.

"Because I knew it was a new position and word was out there, they were going to say, 'Let's see what he can do -- can he defend in zone coverages?'" Robinson said.

He also added that the Vikings have adjusted some coverages to make things easier for him -- "so it's a cleaner read for me," he said. "You appreciate them and just say, 'OK, make sure they're not making these adjustments because I can't read my keys, or whatever it may be.'"

The Vikings' front office effectively made a decision to put Robinson at the position when they chose to cut Antoine Winfield and not pursue a reliable slot corner, drafting Xavier Rhodes and entrusting the position either to young players (Robinson and Sherels) or fringe players (Jacob Lacey). That decision has backfired on the Vikings, but there's only so much Robinson and the coaching staff can do to fix it during the season. Adjusting coverages to help him out is one tactic they can try.

"I think you can learn from any mistakes," Robinson said. "If mistakes were made in that [Packers] game, you've got to be able to learn from it. Of course you don't want to watch it, because it was awful. But you've still got to take the mistakes and try to improve."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As the Vikings sit at 1-5, going through what amounts to an open audition at the quarterback position and all but out of hope for a second straight playoff berth, it's easy to forget how different things would be if not for a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks in September.

In back-to-back games, the Vikings were on the verge of victory when they allowed a pair of last-minute touchdown passes -- by Jay Cutler on Sept. 15 and Brian Hoyer on Sept. 22 -- that led to the Chicago Bears' and Cleveland Browns' wins over Minnesota. Those losses dropped the Vikings to 0-3, and might have sucked the life out of a season that began with high expectations.

That's apparently been going on throughout the NFL this season. Twenty-nine of the 107 games in the league so far this season have been decided by a fourth-quarter comeback, representing 27.1 percent of the outcomes. That's the second-highest percentage of games decided by a fourth-quarter comeback since the merger in 1970, trailing only the 1989 season, during which 31.3 percent of games changed hands late.

Had the Vikings won those games in Weeks 2 and 3, they'd be sitting at 3-3 right now, trying to send the NFC North into a virtual four-way tie with a win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Instead, they're 1-5, possibly headed toward major organizational changes.

It's a sobering reminder of how thin the difference is between NFL teams -- and thus how small the margin for error is -- in 2013. If the Vikings had won those two games, it's tantalizing to think about what effect it would have had on the direction at quarterback, the future of the coaching staff and the team's morale as a whole. But defensive breakdowns also were to blame in both of those losses, and if there's been an indictment of coach Leslie Frazier this season, it's how discombobulated the Vikings have looked on defense, particularly in the secondary. Frazier was a cornerback for the Bears' Super Bowl team in 1985, and he coached defensive backs with Alan Williams on the Colts' Super Bowl team in 2006 before both joined Minnesota as defensive coordinators.

The Vikings' issues at quarterback are a prominent source of problems, but in a pass-heavy league, so are Minnesota's flaws in the secondary. The coaches didn't put the roster together -- in fact, Frazier led the charge to bring Antoine Winfield back after the Vikings cut him in March -- but communication problems are and should be preventable. And for the Vikings, defensive issues on last-minute drives are a big reason why they're 1-5, not 3-3.
Boykin/PonderUSA TODAY SportsPackers WR Jarrett Boykin came up big as an injury fill-in last Sunday; can Vikings QB Christian Ponder do the same against the Packers?
The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will meet for the fourth time in 11 months on Sunday night at Mall of America Field, but things have changed quite a bit for both teams since they faced off in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs last January.

Christian Ponder will likely start at quarterback for the Vikings, but it might be a one-week engagement with Josh Freeman out because of a concussion. Greg Jennings became the latest Packer to switch sides in the rivalry. And Aaron Rodgers is relying as much on a nasty offensive line and a productive running game as he is on a receiving corps that’s been hit hard by injuries.

As the Packers try to extend their lead in the NFC North and the Vikings try to get their season headed in the right direction following a 1-5 start, ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky got together to break down the matchup.

Ben Goessling: Rob, one of these teams has the sixth-ranked rushing game and the third-ranked run defense in the league. And it’s not Minnesota. Those two things have been fixtures for the Vikings for years, but they’re struggling to open holes for Adrian Peterson, who has looked too anxious at times to turn everything into a big gain, and on a few occasions they’ve been whipped up front by opposing offensive lines. How strange has it been to watch the Packers play so physically, and what kind of an advantage will that create for them on Sunday?

Rob Demovsky: It’s like the Bizarro World around here. The Packers haven’t run the ball this well in a decade, not since the days of Ahman Green. And they haven’t had this kind of run defense since 2009, when they led the NFL in the category. But it’s probably the way they have to win now, considering all the skill-position guys – Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley – they’re missing on offense and all the pass-rushers – Clay Matthews, Nick Perry -- they’re missing on defense.

I’m used to seeing the Vikings run the ball like crazy. Are the problems at quarterback the major reason the running game hasn’t taken off, or are there other issues at work?

Goessling: Ah, yes, the old U-71 package with Kevin Barry. And then they got gun-shy in the famous fourth-and-26 game against the Eagles. Sorry, I’m probably hitting some nerves for the Packers fans out there. Moving on …

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what hasn’t worked for the Vikings this season, but I’d start with two guys they paid handsomely over the winter -- right tackle Phil Loadholt and fullback Jerome Felton. Peterson has done his best work running behind those two guys, but Loadholt hasn’t been anywhere near the road grader he was last season, and Felton has had trouble as a lead blocker since returning from his three-game suspension at the beginning of the season. It also seems like Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil and center John Sullivan (who was a Pro Bowl alternate) aren’t playing at the same level they were last season. But yes, if the Vikings could throw the ball and make teams pay for putting nine men in the box, they’d have a little more margin for error. That’s got to be on the quarterback situation; the Vikings spent plenty of money trying to upgrade their offense over the winter, but without a guy who can make it all go, it’s not going to work.

Speaking of the guy who makes it all go for the Packers, am I right in assuming Rodgers is going to be hanging on tightly this week to what Greg Jennings said about him over the summer? Those two can play nice all they want with their comments, but Jennings’ earlier remarks would seem like the type that would activate the famous chip on Rodgers’ shoulder.

Demovsky: It was funny, Rodgers talked at length this week about being focused on this game, this team -- and not about what anyone outside the organization (hint: Jennings) had to say. But when someone asked him how he could forget about that, he came back with a classic response. He said that he didn’t say anything about forgetting, just focusing. Now, does this rival the intensity behind the 2009 games against the Brett Favre-led Vikings? Not even close. But knowing Rodgers, he’ll have a little something extra for this one.

What’s the feeling about Jennings’ contributions so far? Do the Vikings feel like they’re getting their $45 million worth?

Goessling: Yikes. That does sound like a classic Rodgers response. And with the shape this Vikings secondary is in -- especially without safety Harrison Smith -- that might be bad news for defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

Coach Leslie Frazier has raved about what Jennings has meant to their receiving corps, the work he’s done to mentor young receivers such as Cordarrelle Patterson and the time he’s spent with Ponder. He’s had moments, such as the short pass he turned into a 70-yard touchdown against the Steelers, when he’s looked like the player he was in Green Bay. But it’s hard to gauge exactly what he’s done, because there’s been so much uncertainty at quarterback. He’s played with three starters in six games; he had the same number in seven seasons with the Packers. He’s also so technical as a route-runner -- and so good in small spaces – that I think he’s really at his best when he has a quarterback who understands the details in his game and can use those to exploit a defense.

Maybe Ponder can get closer to that on Sunday. He played one of his best games last December when the Vikings needed to beat the Packers for a playoff berth. Can he recreate that against what looks like a tougher defense, or will he struggle, especially now that it looks like Casey Hayward might be back?

Demovsky: This is a much different defense than Ponder saw last season, even if Hayward doesn’t return. The Packers are so much deeper in the secondary now with the emergence of Davon House, who had his first career interception Sunday against the Browns, and rookie Micah Hyde. Sam Shields has become their new shutdown corner, but that’s not to say Tramon Williams still isn’t a factor. He’s actually playing some in the slot now, so it’s a new role for him. As good as Hayward was last season, I’m not sure he’s essential to their pass defense right now. The Packers have only three interceptions on the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the floodgates open fairly soon.

One of the matchups I’m most interested in is Jared Allen against the Packers’ new left tackle, David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari has played well, especially for a rookie, but he hasn’t yet had to pass-protect with the noise inside of a dome. And you know Allen will have some tricks for the rookie. How much do you think the Vikings will try to key on that matchup?

Goessling: I'm sure they're hopeful it's a productive one for them. Allen hasn't looked like the same guy this season -- although he still is on pace for double-digit sacks -- and the Vikings have had enough trouble getting to the quarterback that they've had to blitz a little more, which typically isn't a smart strategy against Rodgers. But Allen always seems to do his best work against the Packers, particularly in the Metrodome, and if the Packers leave Bakhtiari alone against Allen, he could have his hands full.

See you on Sunday night, Rob. Soak up those Metrodome memories. With these two teams in this building, something interesting usually happens.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For years, the Minnesota Vikings have built their defense on a front four that could stop the run up the middle and pressure the quarterback from the outside. So it's been striking this season to see Minnesota struggling to do either one effectively. In fact, the Vikings have had enough trouble pressuring opposing quarterbacks that they've had to ask for extra help.

They've sent five or more rushers on 64 dropbacks in five games so far this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's an average of 12.8 a game, after the Vikings did it only 148 times -- or 9.25 a game -- in 2012.

So how have the results been on the Vikings' blitzes? Actually, better than you'd think, considering how much risk they seem to be taking by devoting less help to an embattled secondary. Quarterbacks only have a 34.7 QBR when the Vikings send five or more, the ninth-lowest in the NFL. Linebackers Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway have combined for three of the team's 10 sacks, and the Vikings aren't routinely getting burned for big plays -- quarterbacks are averaging just 5.97 yards per pass attempt when the Vikings blitz.

"They enjoy being aggressive," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "If they enjoy it and it’s working, I’ll call it. I’m not so rigid that I have to just call coverage, I want to play what works. If it’s working, we’ll keep calling it. If not, we’ll do something else."

In general, though, it's probably not sustainable for the Vikings to dial up many blitzes. They're hardly among the league's most aggressive teams there -- 20 of the NFL's 32 teams have sent at least five pass rushers more often than the Vikings have -- but when they're playing Cover-2 defense, it typically works best for them to get home with four pass-rushers. In other words, the blitzes can be a change of pace, but they probably can't account for half of the Vikings' sacks, as they've done so far.

If Minnesota gets the kind of production it's accustomed to from Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen, the blitzes can probably be even more lethal. If not? The Vikings might have a tough time winning in spite of their other defensive issues.