Run defense regains its stride

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 18, 2007 - 8:11 PM

Minnesota shuttered the Raiders' rushing game a week after a rare letdown, but Daunte Culpepper's passing kept Oakland in the game.

The Vikings defense followed its worst overall performance of the season by reverting to form in a 29-22 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at the Metrodome. That could be considered both a good and bad thing.

One game after Green Bay's Ryan Grant became the first player to rush for more than 100 yards against them this season, the Vikings held the Raiders to 61 total yards on the ground. Oakland tailback Justin Fargas carried 22 times for 60 yards as run-stuffing nose tackle Pat Williams finished with a team-high nine tackles.

But while one of the NFL's best rush defenses was able to right itself, the Raiders became the latest opponent to put up substantial passing yards on the Vikings. Oakland's 311 net yards passing marked the sixth time in 10 games a Minnesota opponent has topped the 300-yard mark.

Raiders quarterback Daunte Culpepper completed 23 of 39 passes for 344 yards but also was sacked four times as defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sent far more blitzes than he did against the Packers' Brett Favre in a 34-0 loss the week before at Lambeau Field. The pressure -- reminiscent of what the Vikings did against San Diego's Philip Rivers in a Week 9 victory -- helped result in a first-quarter intentional-grounding call on Culpepper that gave the Vikings their first safety since 2003.

While Frazier was pleased his defense held Oakland to one touchdown and five field goals, he acknowledged the pass plays are disturbing. "We're giving up some cheap, cheap plays in the pass game," Frazier said. "We've got what, six games left? We've still got to fix that. We have to get balance, which was the goal coming in here. We've got to get that passing yardage down."

Of Culpepper's 23 completions, seven came on what the Vikings term explosive plays, which are gains of 16 or more yards. Frazier pointed to a 46-yard completion to receiver Ronald Curry in the first quarter as a prime example of a play that cornerback Cedric Griffin could have prevented. "Cedric was in a three-deep coverage and the guy runs a stutter, go," Frazier said. "You can't give up plays like that."

While teams usually attack the Vikings by using multiple-receiver sets that force them to employ their nickel package, the Raiders' scheme often enabled the Vikings to stay in their base defense. Charles Gordon, who usually replaces either linebacker Chad Greenway or Ben Leber in passing situations, estimated he played about 25 snaps Sunday after being in for "about 50" against the Packers.

"For me personally, I love it," Leber said of the opportunity to be on the field more often. "I think we do a great job with the three linebackers in there. Any time we can get more snaps, I'm definitely happy about it."

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