Will this last till they get to Detroit?
Well fans, last Sunday turned out to be Christmas morning for followers of the Purple, who found just about everything they had asked for under the bountiful tree. It will be remembered that, last year, Mike Tomlin's defense looked like world-beaters until Bill Belichick and the Patriots rolled into town and took it apart like a cheap watch. The Vikes never got it back together again for the rest of the season and I, for one, was convinced that Mike Tomlin was declared a prodigy and rewarded with a head coaching position quite prematurely.
Of course, the big problem with Tomlin's defense was the inability of its defensive line to mount any pass rush, and he was stubborn about resorting to any more creative way to apply it than to rely on his front four, who never stepped up. It's only one game, and Atlanta may well go on to prove itself the great stinker of the league, but Sunday's six sacks is impressive under any circumstances.
It appears that head defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has put together a surprise package of blitzes that is very effective in getting his speedy linebackers to the QB, and also seems to have coaxed a much more effective effort from his ends, especially Brian Robison and Ray Edwards. (And remember, Erasmus James did not even play.) If this holds up over the course of the season, the Vikes defense will be up well within the top ten. A bonus, in addition to the improved pass rush, is the tough play against the run provided by cornerback Cedrick Griffin to complement Winfield on the other side. This is going to enable the safeties to play a little deeper, and be more effective against speedy wideouts.
Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, nothing needs to be said about the dimension Adrian Peterson gives to the Vikes offense, just what is needed to enable Tarvaris Jackson, still a pretty raw rookie, to improve by increments. Rather, it was Jackson's play that gives some of the strongest reassurance that this season will not crash and burn. He did nothing spectacular, but took pretty good care of the ball. He was not noticeably rattled by the blitz, (in fact beat a heavy one when he got the ball to Peterson for the TD), and passed accurately in the short to intermediate areas. Had he been more accurate, both Williamson and Rice were open for long gains, and down field accuracy is thought to be a Jackson strength; so it is very possible that the passing offense may quickly improve.
And, another big worry, unseasoned and fumble-fingered wideouts, didn't seem to materialize, at least for now. Troy Williamson, who I had given up on in particular, held on to the two balls thrown his way, and shared the catches with eight other receivers, another promising sign.
Now let's think about some other areas of preseason concern, such as rotten special teams that continually kicked off short and gave up long returns. Could it be Ryan Longwell hit the weights or something? None of his kickoffs fell short of the five yard line and none were returned farther than the thirty.
And for icing on the cake, for the first time in living memory the Purple was penalized less than five times, and never a crucial one. The right side of the offensive line, instead of allowing the defense to pour through and bury the QB, (when not lurching into motion early), blocked very well for the run.
So there you have it, nearly all early season questions answered in the affirmative, even though only in one game against the Vickless Falcons. Next week, the Vikes will go up against a Lions' passing attack which appears much improved and was instrumental in scoring 36 points on Sunday, if only against Oakland. If the Vikes new pass defense holds up at Detroit, it will tell a lot about how this season will go.