In 2004, the Vikings ranked fourth in the league in total offense, and sixth in points scored. Unfortunately, they also ranked 28th in total defense and 26th in scoring defense. Proving the equal importance of offense and defense, this disparity carried them to an even 8-8 record.
Not satisfied with being average, and having the most salary cap room in the NFL, the Vikings embarked on a bold makeover. For once, they decided to emphasize defense over offense. They started the process by trading arguably their biggest offensive star, Randy Moss, for Napoleon Harris and a draft pick.
As offense has carried the Vikings for many years, this signaled a major change in philosophy.CB Fred Smoot.LB Sam Cowart.
LB Napoleon Harris.DT Pat Williams.S Darren Sharper.
Above is a list of the major defensive players the Vikings acquired this offseason. Of these, Pat Williams should make the biggest impact on the Vikings. He was a major part of a very underrated Buffalo defense, and he should pair with Kevin Williams to form one of the best tackle combos in the NFL.
These 2 will help anchor the defense and both stuff the run and make room for the Vikings linebackers. Fred Smoot should also make an impact, replacing Brian Williams. On paper, with Smoot and Winfield in the secondary, the Vikings should have a top cornerback duo. Smoot is a bit overrated though, as he was burned numerous times last year, but he is still a decent enough player.
Darren Sharper is another good player. He got 4 interceptions and 72 total tackles in Green Bay last year. Not Pro Bowl numbers, but good numbers nonetheless.
He is a solid safety who should allow the corners to be a bit more aggressive. He will also bring some toughness and leadership to a defense that needs it. These 3 are difference makers who should make the Vikings defense better.The other players the Viking's acquired are questionable in terms of skill. Sam Cowart was good in New York, but odd as it is to say about a veteran, he only has potential now.
He was good before last year, when he was injured and subsequently replaced by Jonathan Vilma. Vilma was able to come in as a rookie and make 108 tackles in 14 games as a starter, which means that Cowart's 140 total tackles the year before could have been the product of the system, not the linebacker. In addition, a 30 year old linebacker coming off a major knee injury is not someone to place a whole lot of confidence in. This signing could end up like the Redskin's signing of Michael Barrow, a linebacker coming off a 140 tackle season who got injured and never made an impact.Napoleon Harris is a 2002 first round pick who has adamantly refused to justify his draft position. Last year, he was part of one of the NFL's worst defenses, and managed just 61 total tackles.
For a starting linebacker, this is awful. He also registered 0 sacks. The year before, he did register 110 total tackles, but that year seems to be an aberration. When you play beside Tim Johnson, someone has to get tackles. No matter how bad they are.The Vikings defense will no question be better next year.
How much better is debatable. The Vikings now have a good secondary, with Corey Chavous, Fred Smoot, Darren Sharper, and Antoine Winfield forming a respectable foursome. But don't confuse respectable with excellent. They will not have a top 5 passing defense, but they should be in the upper half of NFL teams. This will still be a major improvement on last year.
Their defensive line should be excellent in the middle, with Kevin and Pat Williams. Kevin Williams is a rising star, and might be in the Pro Bowl next year. Pat Williams is a veteran, who while slowing down, can still get it done, at least on the run stuffing end.What worries me are the Vikings defensive ends. The inexperienced Darrion Scott replaces Spencer Johnson at defensive end.
Scott did not start a regular season game last season, but he received decent amounts of time as a backup. He failed to impress, notching just 12 solo tackles and no sacks in 12 games. Kenichi Udeze was pressed into a starting role last year after being picked in the first round of the 2004 draft.
He did get 5 sacks, but he only made 36 total tackles. He is a decent enough player, but he is not a stellar defensive end. This means that the pass rush for the Vikings will have to come from their linebackers.
Unfortunately, the Vikings starting linebackers(Harris, Henderson, and Cowart), totaled one sack last year. Kevin Williams had 11.5. These linebackers are decent in run support, but pass rushing is not their strong suit.
This is not a bunch of athletic sideline to sideline linebackers that will be able to fly around the field and make plays. Most of the plays they make will be because of the holes the D-line will open for them. This is a major weakness of the Vikings. They will not be able to use their linebackers aggressively, and will have to rely on Pat and Kevin Williams and their secondary to make plays. They also have no pass rush whatsoever from the linebacker spots. The onus of rushing the passer will fall on the defensive line, with the inexperienced ends.
The Vikings will have a defense that is ranked better than 28th, no question. However, it will not be in the top 10 in the league. This defense will rank somewhere between 11 and 20 in total defense next year.
This will be enough to get the Vikings 8-11 wins and a playoff spot. They will still rely on their offense to carry them, but their defense will carry more of the load than before..Vikas Paruchuri is a sports columnist who writes on the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB. He maintains a website at http://www.
thehomefield.com with sports analysis and opinion columns.
By: Vikas Paruchuri