The Vikings finished the 2012 season with a 10-6 record and advanced to the playoffs, and their defense was rated 17th in the NFL. But as they get ready to face the Giants on Monday, the Vikings are 1-4 and rank 31st in total defense. Only the Eagles are lower.
Jared Allen, who ranks among the best defensive lineman in the NFL with 120.5 sacks in 146 games, talked about the difference between last year’s defense and this year’s unit.
“Winfield was a huge part of our defense,” Allen said of Antoine Winfield, who was let go and is a free agent. “Always has been. Not having him obviously hurts.”
There have been rumors that the Vikings have talked to Winfield about coming back but that his salary demands are too high.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Allen said about the team’s four losses, which have included giving up two game-winning drives in the final minutes and a thrashing by the Panthers last weekend.
“I hope someone knows what’s going on and I hope they fix it because it’s embarrassing.”
The defense has to improve, right?
“I think that’s stating the obvious. I’m with you on that,” he said.
When Allen was asked what had to be corrected, he said it was probably numerous issues.
“It always comes down to little things, being assignment-sound, doing the job, guys being accountable for themselves, showing up on time, doing their job, stuff like that,” he said. “If we can get back to doing the basic things maybe we can improve. At this point it has to be the little things to create big changes.”
Allen believes the team has the leadership to set those examples.
“Anybody that knows me knows that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “We have good leaders: [Chad] Greenway, [Kevin] Williams, they’re going to show up, they’re going to work, and that’s what they do.”
Allen was asked about the team’s quarterback controversy.
“I think whenever you have an opportunity to try to win, you do that,” he said about the team signing Josh Freeman. “Obviously it’s at a key position and that shakes some things up, and I’m glad I’m not in the position to have to deal with it. I’m just at the position to try to continue to play a high level and help our defense to continue to get better as we go along.
“Whoever is going to play at quarterback, it’s going to be. Obviously Christian [Ponder] has a great rapport with the guys in the locker room, everybody loves [Matt] Cassel, and Josh has come in and he’s been humble. Obviously playing against him, guys in the locker room who have played against him, have respect for him. He’s obviously a talented individual.”
Lastly Allen was asked about his future with the team, after the other starting defensive end, Brian Robison, signed a long-term deal last week. Allen and Everson Griffen, a promising young defensive end, will be free agents after this year.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” he said. “That’s not even my focus right now. Me and the Vikings are on the same page. We’ll deal with that at the right time, and right now we’re just trying to win football games.
“I love the Minnesota Vikings. I love the organization, the community. It has been great for my life. Like I said, wherever the good Lord takes me, that’s where we’ll be, whether it’s here, somewhere else, we’ll deal with that at the appropriate time.”
Fitzgerald on Gophers
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked by the Chicago Tribune what he thought of the Gophers defense heading into their matchup this weekend.
“They’re a 4-3 attack-style defense, meaning they’re going to play a lot of man, those guys are going to attack up front,” Fitzgerald said. “Their linebackers play fast. Coach [Tracy] Claeys has been very successful this year. He’s done a great job. They try to make you play a little bit lefthanded, and I’m very impressed with their athleticism, their speed and their toughness.”
The other main concern for Northwestern’s offense is injuries to quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark, who have both been instrumental in the team’s offensive attack. Northwestern was averaging 39 points per game before putting up just six against Wisconsin last weekend.
• As for the salaries of the three Vikings quarterbacks, Ponder’s base salary is $1.3 million this year and $1.8 million next season. Freeman is getting paid $2 million this year by theVikings in addition to his Buccaneers salary while Cassel’s base is $1.6 this year.
• Richard Pitino, the Gophers basketball coach, was an assistant coach under his dad, Rick Pitino, for two seasons when current Timberwolves rookie Gorgui Dieng was on the team. “The one thing about Gorgui is he has great skills, understands how to play, he is very professional and he’s a great kid,” Pitino said. “He’s the type of kid you want to be around, especially with an 82-game season like that. He brings a lot of things. Defensively, he’s a very good shot blocker, but offensively he has a great understanding of how to play. He was really good [at Louisville]. He had to be one of the better shot blockers in the Big East.”
• Former Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard has an assist in his first five games for the N.Y. Islanders. … Former Gopher Nick Bjugstad played in his first game for Florida on Tuesday night and didn’t register a point. ... Former Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert has an assist in seven games for the Panthers. … Former Gopher Jordan Schroeder has played in only one of the Canucks’ first seven games.
• Twins second base prospect Eddie Rosario continues his tremendous season, hitting .333 through four games at the Arizona Fall League with five RBI. … Also on the Glendale Desert Dogs is Byron Buxton, who is hitting .222 through five games, but he does have four RBI and four runs scored to go along with a home run and a stolen base.
• Former Gopher Trevor Mbakwe played in his first game with Virtus Roma of Italy on Sunday. Mbakwe scored 11 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked a shot in 20 minutes of play. Mbakwe also appeared in the team’s Eurocup game against Gravelines on Wednesday and scored four points in 22 minutes while grabbing seven rebounds.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com