All the headlines, radio talk shows and TV newscasts this week have focused on the Vikings quarterback situation, with the signing of Josh Freeman and questions surrounding Christian Ponder’s status with the club.
But the real problem the Vikings have had in all four games this year, and the reason they don’t have a better record, is that their defense hasn’t had any answers in the passing game. They were burned by the pass in losses to the Lions, Bears and Browns and almost were again in the victory over the Steelers.
Linebacker Chad Greenway and defensive end Jared Allen were asked what can be done to tighten up the defense, especially late in the game, where the Vikings have been run over by opposing two-minute offenses.
“I think the biggest thing is just not putting yourself in that situation to start,” Greenway said. “You get into that situation at the end of the game, it’s a tough two-minute situation, and a lot of NFL games do come down to that. We just have to continue to improve in that aspect and get off the field with some wins.”
Asked if the pressure changes in those two-minute situations, Greenway said: “I don’t think the pressure is necessarily doing anything to you. You’re in the moment of the game you’re playing, and if the play comes your way you have to make the play. That’s how it has to go.”
Greenway said that the Vikings work often on improving the pass defense.
“It’s an integral part of what we do and we know it’s a critical situation, so we have to get better at it,” he said.
Through four games in 2012, the Vikings were 3-1. The defense was giving up 228.3 passing yards per game, 14th-best in the league, and 313.5 total yards per game, eighth in the NFL. Compare that to this year, when they are 29th in pass defense at 326.0 yards per game and 30th in overall defense at 430.8 yards per game.
That means the team is giving up 97.7 more passing yards per game and 104.8 more total yards per game this year.
“We’ve given up a lot of yards, but the yards aren’t always indicative of how we’re playing,” Greenway said. “We just have to continue to get off the field in critical situations.”
With the release of Antoine Winfield, the secondary has been without its most experienced defensive back. And the Vikings no doubt miss him.
Greenway said the young players in the secondary have to just keep working. “Experience is going to come to those guys as they play more games,” he said. “We just have to continue to get better.”
Allen: Defense is lacking consistency
Allen, who has 3½ sacks through four games, said the defense has to not only improve every week but become a lot more consistent.
“We have times where we play really well,” Allen said. “That first half of the Pittsburgh game I thought was great. We had a 17-point lead at one time, and I don’t know if we rest on our laurels or what it is, but we just need to be more consistent and close people out.”
Given his track record as a pass-rusher, Allen always finds himself a marked man against opposing offensive lines.
“It is what it is,” he said. “You have to deal with it. You’re going to deal with double-teams. That’s why it’s a team game.”
Taylor on Whalen’s influence
When the Lynx traded the No. 1 pick in the 2010 WNBA draft for former Gophers point guard Lindsay Whalen, the team had posted a 152-214 record through the first 11 years of the franchise’s existence.
And while dealing away the No. 1 pick in the draft is difficult, team owner Glen Taylor said Friday that it wasn’t a tough decision for him.
“Not for us, no,” he said. “I know we gave up a really good player [Tina Charles] … but Lindsay, not only is she local, but her leadership on the floor is just as vital. … You need someone at point guard who is a great leader and knows how to make the other players better.”
Whalen has certainly done that. The team has gone 93-43 since the deal and just won its second WNBA championship in three years, becoming the second team in league history to run through the playoffs without a loss.
Taylor said the Lynx had wanted Whalen for some time. “We had contacted [Connecticut] each year about Lindsay coming here,” he said. “But they would never do a trade with us. Then the No. 1 pick in the draft became available, [Charles] played [in college] at Connecticut, so that was a hometown girl for them and they wanted her.”
The Lynx also gave up Renee Montgomery to the Connecticut Sun in that trade but did receive the No. 2 pick, which was used to take top reserve Monica Wright.
Taylor also pointed out that the Lynx has been very lucky in drafting Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore and adding Rebekkah Brunson in the dispersal draft from Sacramento. Adding former Gophers center Janel McCarville this season was another big boost.
Does he think the team has the making of a dynasty?
“There’s some other good teams in the league, so we have to stay healthy,” he said.
• Don’t be surprised to see Christian Ponder play against Carolina on Sunday if Matt Cassel runs into any problems.
• While Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is generally considered the biggest threat to opposing teams, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is just as dangerous on the defensive side of the football. Kuechly was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season after recording 164 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries, while Newton was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 after he threw for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 14 touchdowns and 706 yards.
• Going into the bye week, the Gophers football team was ranked No. 9 in the 12-team Big Ten in offense at 22.1 points per game and No. 8 in defense at 24.7 points per game.
• Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek, the former Gophers hockey standout who is a free agent next year, was off to a good start this year with four points in his first five games entering Saturday. Vanek might be available to the Wild next season if they need another scoring forward.
• Tyus Jones told a Duke basketball website this week that he and Jahlil Okafor, two of the top high school recruits in the country, don’t pay attention to rumors on where the duo are headed next season. Jones, the Apple Valley point guard, and Okafor, a center from Chicago Whitney Young, have repeatedly said they are being recruited as a package deal.
• With the Major League Baseball playoffs having entered the League Championship Series, three former Twins players remain: Dodgers infielder Nick Punto, Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter and Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. Catcher Drew Butera is not on the Dodgers NLCS roster, but he has remained with the team during the postseason.