EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Since arriving during the offseason as the Minnesota Vikings' new defensive coordinator, Alan Williams has preached one basic tenant to his defense: aggressively run to the football.
This season is Williams' first coordinating an NFL defense, and he's tried to simplify the team's approach with the intent of having players able to react more than think in game situations. He's said repeatedly he wants players running to the football. On the outside, the philosophy suited Minnesota during a fast start in which they were among the league's top run defenses, turning teams one-dimensional so the top-notch pass rush could do its job.
But in the past four weeks, the run defense has slipped. The Vikings also aren't generating the takeways they did during their 4-1 start and Williams has a good idea why.
"(Turnovers) come from running to the ball, and that's one thing we talked to the guys about was that we want to make sure we continue running to the football," Williams said Thursday. "And there were some loafs in the ballgame, and those loafs are turning down hits or not running full speed or not getting up off the ground. And we saw some of those, which were uncharacteristic of the defense."
Minnesota's defense forced seven turnovers in the first five games but just three in the past four. A run defense that had allowed 78.6 yards per game to opponents in the first five weeks has allowed 165.8 in the past four. Consequently, combined with a struggling offense, the Vikings' defense hasn't been able to get off the field with opponents possessing the ball for at least 35 minutes each of the last three games.
In Sunday's 30-20 loss at Seattle, Minnesota allowed a season-high 195 rushing yards, didn't force a turnover and trailed time of possession, 36:00-24:00. Seattle finished the game off by running the ball 12 times to drain the final 5 minutes, 27 seconds off the clock as the Vikings couldn't get a much-needed stop or takeaway in a close game.
"We couldn't get the push that we needed on defense to get off the field when we knew they were going to run the ball, and that's a demoralizing time when that happens," coach Leslie Frazier said.
Has the inability to get off the field because of poor run defense and lack of takeaways, combined with short drives by the offense, sapped the defense emotionally, causing the "loafs" that Williams talked about?
"I'm not quite sure," Williams said. "I just know that they came. And I don't think it was a psychological thing where guys were on the field. Our motto is it doesn't matter how long we're on the field, or where we are on the field, we still have to run to the ball and we still have to defend our turf."
Linebacker Chad Greenway said the fatigue hasn't been an issue, and noted added breakdowns will come as opponents mount longer drives and have more opportunities.
"It's tough, but it's our own faults," Greenway said. "Get off the field on third down. Offense, obviously, we'd love them to stay on the field as much as possible and get those guys real tired on long drives. But for us defensively, there's no reason we're not playing three plays every time and getting off the field. Twenty snaps, 30 snaps a game, it's a possibility; just do what you need to do."
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