Sunday, September 29, 2013
Vikings' pass rush shows up in big way
By Ben Goessling
LONDON -- In their first three games, the Minnesota Vikings' defense has been vexed by quarterbacks who were often able to get rid of the ball quickly, either by dumping it off to a running back (Detroit's Matthew Stafford), finding holes in the Vikings' porous pass coverage (Cleveland's Brian Hoyer) or both (Chicago's Jay Cutler).
The Vikings had only nine sacks in three games, despite pressuring opposing quarterbacks on 43 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That was the 10th-best total in the league, but it only left the Vikings tied for 14th in sacks. A team that is at its best with pressure from its front four wasn't taking quartebacks down enough to protect the rest of its defense from looking vulnerable, and in their past two games, the Vikings were left stunned by quarterbacks who engineered last-minute comebacks.
That Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger -- who has led 25 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, including one in Super Bowl XLIII -- wasn't able to pull the Pittsburgh Steelers even on Sunday night reflects mostly on the Vikings' defensive line. The group had four of the team's five sacks, including the final one from Everson Griffen that forced a game-sealing fumble, and harassed Roethlisberger throughout a game where the Steelers were forced to throw the ball 51 times.
Roethlisberger threw for 382 yards on Sunday night, burning cornerback Josh Robinson for large chunks of it, but he also threw 18 times in the fourth quarter as the Steelers tried to erase a 17-point deficit. The Vikings' pass rush helped create that deficit by getting to Roethlisberger enough early in the game to thwart the Steelers' drives.
"We kind of say when the rush and coverage matches up, that's when you make plays," safety Harrison Smith said. "The rush was there all night long. Still got to shore some things up on the back end, but ultimately it was enough to win."
The Vikings have major reasons to be concerned with their secondary, especially with Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford out on Sunday night. Both could be back after the bye, but Roethlisberger picked on Robinson all night, and A.J. Jefferson has also struggled in coverage this season.
But Jared Allen devoured Steelers left tackle Mike Adams, and fought through some of the double-teams Pittsburgh started throwing at him later in the game. Sharrif Floyd shared a sack with Allen. Greenway got another one on a linebacker blitz, and Griffen, who hadn't had one in three games after entering the season with high expectations, made the biggest play of the game.
After the Vikings' offense had played it safe on third down and cost themselves the chance to put an opponent away for the third week in a row, Frazier turned to his defense. Fittingly enough, when Minnesota was reeling again, its pass rush was what had the last word.
"Our defense went out and did a great job," Frazier said. "I just did not believe that we were going to lose that game, even though we looked precarious at times."