Secondary still on a high after taking step forward

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2011 - 1:02 PM

With Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin on the sideline, an inexperienced group helped contain Larry Fitzgerald.

The edge.

It's hard for Vikings cornerback Chris Cook to describe exactly what it feels like. But Cook knows it was present Sunday at Mall of America Field. He sensed it in pregame warm-ups, in the locker room before the game with Arizona and especially when the Vikings defense took the field for the first time.

"We needed that victory," Cook said. "We talked all week about starting the second quarter of our season 1-0. So we came out driven to have that edge."

With cornerback Antoine Winfield inactive because of a neck injury and Cedric Griffin held out of the starting lineup due to disciplinary reasons, the Vikings secondary understood the microscope it was under. Beyond that, Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald had come back to his hometown looking to exploit those secondary shortcomings.

The Vikings defense, however, saw Winfield's absence as a cue to rally and spent most of last week with a three-word motto.

"Play as one," safety Jamarca Sanford said. "That's all we kept stressing. We had to make sure all 11 guys were playing the same call. There were no busted assignments."

On Wednesday, three days after a 34-10 drubbing of Arizona, the defensive backs still were beaming over that edge they felt.

For a 1-4 team trying to scale a steep mountain in the NFC North standings, progress proved invigorating.

Whether it was Asher Allen making his first start of the season Sunday and delivering an interception on Arizona's third series; whether it was Cook scrapping fearlessly, frequently in hand-to-hand combat with Fitzgerald; whether it was Griffin limiting his mistakes, Sanford contributing two interceptions or Marcus Sherels staying poised in nickel packages, the Vikings secondary delivered a top-notch effort.

The most telling stat: Fitzgerald caught only one more pass (four) than the Vikings' secondary.

"We slowed him down a little bit, got him out of his routes," Cook said. "His game's all about timing, especially in their offense. We threw that timing off."

Added coach Leslie Frazier: "Looking back at this performance, it should help us play against some of the great receivers in our league."

The past three weeks, the Vikings had to focus on limiting several of the NFL's top receivers -- Fitzgerald, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe and Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Now comes what seems to be a potential breather.

This week, the Vikings face a Chicago receiving corps that has been underwhelming. Undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher has the most catches among Bears receivers this season with 16. Johnny Knox, meanwhile, is the only Bears receiver averaging more than 35 yards per game (50.8).

Instead, Sanford says, the Vikings secondary will have to zero in on running back Matt Forte, the NFL's leader in yards from scrimmage with 775.

Still, the Vikings defensive backs head to Soldier Field with several lessons learned from last weekend's blowout. For one, they feel confident their depth is as reliable as ever. For another, the defensive backs understand the Vikings front four of Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Kevin Williams and Remi Ayodele catalyzed their success Sunday.

"That was a huge factor," Cook said. "Every time we looked up on the tape, there was someone either hitting [Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb] or coming a half-step away from hitting him. When a quarterback faces that much pressure constantly, he gets jittery and just wants to get the ball out of his hands."

And that edge the Vikings felt early on? It came with a nice reward.

With 2:41 left in the first quarter, the Cardinals had 13 net yards of offense. Meanwhile, thanks to the defense's services, the Vikings had 28 points.

"When you're in the National Football League, you don't often look up and get to see 28-0 in the first quarter," Sanford said. "That was a big boost for us. I think it showed us all what we're capable of."

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