Vikings' defense quietly bolstered by talent infusion
EDEN PRAIRIE — With veteran Matt Cassel having won the Minnesota Vikings’ starting quarterback competition with a surprisingly strong preseason, let’s take a moment to check the impact coach Mike Zimmer has had on a defense that ranked 31st in yards allowed, 31st against the pass and dead last in points allowed in 2013.
So far, so good. In fact, so far, so very good.
The infusion of youth up front, the maturation of second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes and the addition of savvy veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and athletically versatile rookie linebacker Anthony Barr has helped Zimmer’s more aggressive schemes shine during a 3-0 start to the preseason.
Some of Zimmer’s multiple fronts and blitz packages were on display Saturday night as the Vikings hit the road for the first time this preseason and returned from Kansas City with an easy 30-12 win over the Chiefs.
Granted, Kansas City was without running back Jamaal Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe. But there’s still reason for Vikings fans to be excited about Zimmer’s defense. Look no further than what happened in the red zone while the first unit was facing Chiefs starting quarterback Alex Smith.
A year ago, the Vikings gave up 39 red-zone touchdowns. Only the Cowboys (40) allowed more. But Saturday, the Chiefs entered the red zone three times in the first half. All they came away with was a field goal.
The other two trips resulted in interceptions by Munnerlyn and linebacker Chad Greenway. Backup cornerback Shaun Prater added a third pick in the second half.
Munnerlyn’s interception came in the end zone and showed the kind of instincts that former Vikings cornerback Chris Cook never showed in his four interception-free seasons in Minnesota.
“I was playing Cover Three man and I had outside leverage,” Munnerlyn said. “I knew I was close to the end zone so I knew the receiver couldn’t run by me. He had to stop soon. So I undercut him and made a play.”
It also helped that the Vikings had five sacks on the night. And that one of the sacks and numerous hurries belonged to Everson Griffen, the man whose longtime potential as a part-time player is being counted on to blossom as Jared Allen’s replacement at right end.
“When you get around the quarterback,” Zimmer said, “good things happen.”
Zimmer officially named Cassel as the starter Monday over rookie Teddy Bridgewater. As good as Bridgewater has looked for a rookie, Cassel has looked even better as a veteran who can best help the Vikings win this season.
Especially if Zimmer’s defense continues to play this well. In about five quarters of three preseason games, the Vikings’ first unit has allowed just 17 points.