Vikings defense seeks consistency

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2011 - 1:04 PM

Impressive moments in the first three quarters were overshadowed by physical and mental lapses late in the second half in a loss to San Diego

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One of Sunday’s highlights: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen dropped into coverage to grab an interception in front of Chargers running back Ryan Mathews.

Photo: Gregory Bull, Associated Press

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On paper, the Vikings defensive line competed at a respectable level in the team's season-opening 24-17 loss at San Diego on Sunday.

Jared Allen picked off a Philip Rivers pass in the third quarter. Both Allen and Brian Robison recorded a half-sack. And the defensive line's pressure contributed to the Chargers' final total of only 77 yards rushing.

But the fine print tells a different story.

After halftime, Minnesota's missed tackles turned San Diego's rudimentary check-down passes and runs into first downs and extra plays. Rivers looked uncomfortable in the first half but untouchable in the second when the pressure dropped.

And defensive tackles Letroy Guion and Fred Evans combined to commit three penalties in the last three minutes of the game, which helped the Chargers milk the clock and eliminate any chance of a final redemptive drive by the Vikings offense.

"Penalties absolutely killed us especially in the four-minute drill. You can't have penalties in the four-minute," Allen said. "Right there, we have three timeouts, I think it was like 3:30 on the clock and we have a chance to give the ball back to our offense to go down and tie the game or possibly win it. It's one of those things where we've got to play smarter."

The defensive line seemed to shake Rivers early. Although the Chargers quarterback didn't start fast, he piled up 335 passing yards and two touchdowns, despite two interceptions, by the end of the afternoon.

Mike Tolbert, a 5-9, 245-pound running back, rolled all over the field for 93 total yards and three touchdowns. On his 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Tolbert bounced off Vikings defensive linemen like a pinball.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he's seeking more consistency from the entire group.

"They did a good job early on, just getting pressure, rushing the quarterback and making him move around. That's a good offense, and they really had him off kilter for quite a while," he said. "To throw 48 passes and average little over 6 yards an attempt, you'll take that on most occasions when you've got a guy who averages almost 9 yards an attempt. Coming up with two turnovers, there were a lot of good things that happened.

"The thing that we have to get better at, we had some open field tackles that we didn't make, some tackles that we ordinarily would make. But the consistency across the board is what we'll be striving for as we go forward because there were many moments where you look and you say, 'OK, that's exactly what we like to see happen.' But to consistently do it is what we have to strive to achieve."

And the players know it.

Both Robison and Allen said the defensive line made some costly mistakes that were simply unacceptable. But players immediately acknowledged their errors.

Allen said Guion, who committed a pair of penalties in the closing minutes, was frustrated after the game, the kind of attitude that drives improvement.

"Anytime you do something like that in a clutch situation, you're not going to want to do that," he said. "That shows the guy wants to win. If he wasn't down, that's when I'd have a problem with it."

But it was the first game of the season and it was played on the road.

And fatigue couldn't have helped. The Chargers kept the Vikings defense on the field for 37 minutes, 17 seconds.

Plus, the opponent happened to be a popular choice to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

So Minnesota's defensive line remains confident, while recognizing its need to fix the kinks before Sunday's home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I think overall we played well. As with anything, there's always things to learn from," Robison said. "We had a lot of chances to get off the field on third down. [Penalties] are mistakes we can't have going down the stretch, especially in tight games like that. There's things that we're going to correct and we're going to get better from it."

Notes

• Fewer than 1,000 tickets remained for Sunday's home opener against Tampa Bay, which ensures the game will be locally televised, according to Vikings chief marketing officer Steve LaCroix. He also said fewer than 4,000 tickets remain for the Vikings' home game against Detroit on Sept. 25.

• The Vikings announced that defensive lineman Cedric McKinley -- the former Gophers player who was with the Vikings during training camp -- had been signed to the team's practice squad.

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