Vikings 2011: Three keys to success on defense

  • Updated: September 9, 2011 - 1:07 AM

THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS

1 FRONT FOUR PASS RUSH

Every defense is better if the front four can provide an effective pass rush by themselves. But that's particularly true for the Vikings because they are a zone-based team, one that asks its back seven players to work in concert to minimize passing lanes and big plays. The Vikings will surrender their share of completions underneath, but ideally yards after the catch are hard to come by if the back seven works together and tackles well. New defensive coordinator Fred Pagac likes to blitz more than his predecessors, Leslie Frazier and Mike Tomlin, but will be selective with his blitz packages. He needs right end Jared Allen to return to his All-Pro form of 2007-09 while the rest of the linemen rush well enough to keep offenses from sliding protection to Allen's side.

2 SMART LINEBACKERS

It would have been a nice bonus to have another year of Ben Leber's experience at weak-side linebacker. But Leber didn't play in the nickel, which the Vikings use a little more than 50 percent of the time. So while Leber's replacement, Erin Henderson, must prove himself, the Vikings still have a combined 15 years of NFL experience at the two most important linebacker positions. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, 31, and strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway, 28, work well together. With the middle of the field generally being the soft spot in this defense, it's Greenway and E.J. Henderson that need to diagnose, react and tackle quickly. Otherwise, short passes turn into long gains.

3 STAY HEALTHY, CEDRIC

As hard as he's worked to come back from tearing both anterior cruciate ligaments in back-to-back seasons, cornerback Cedric Griffin deserves a break. Whether he gets one could go a long way in determining what kind of season the Vikings have. A healthy Griffin at right corner gives the Vikings three corners who can match up well with receivers in the nickel. Antoine Winfield moves inside to the slot and Chris Cook goes to left corner. Cook has more promise than production to this point, but he's too young and talented to write off. Depth is a weakness, so two of the keys to the defense reside in Griffin's knees.

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