Vikings defensive takeaways lead the NFL
MINNEAPOLIS--NFL footballs are made of tanned cowhide, but the ravenous Vikings defense is attacking those tasteless spheres as if they were covered in hot fudge and whipped cream.
MINNEAPOLIS-NFL footballs are made of tanned cowhide, but the ravenous Vikings defense is attacking those tasteless spheres as if they were covered in hot fudge and whipped cream.
The unit has feasted on a lot of sundaes the past two Sundays in dominant victories over Tennessee and Green Bay.
The Vikings lead the NFL with six takeaways in two games, and they would be close to double digits if not for butterfingers and greed.
Blame it on Danielle Hunter.
The second-year defensive end's scoop and score Week 1 at Nashville has Minnesota defenders hungry for the end zone when perhaps falling on fumbles in the red zone would suffice. These are first-world football problems, to be sure.
Trae Waynes' interception of Aaron Rodgers with less than two minutes remaining Sunday night sealed a 17-14 win over the Packers, another game-changing play from a defense feasting on them.
It was the second turnover created by Minnesota's defense in consecutive fourth-quarter series. Brian Robison stripped Rodgers in the pocket and Shamar Stephen recovered, snuffing any hopes of Green Bay mounting a game-tying or winning drive.
"It's a calculated risk," Robison said Monday. "When you see it enough, you understand there's a time to go for it and a time to make sure you secure the sack. Last night, I saw the ball was hanging out for me and I saw an opportunity to get it out of his hands."
The Packers fumbled four times but only lost two. Cornerback Terence Newman also had a potential third-quarter interception bounce off his hands moments before Green Bay scored to cut Minnesota's lead to three points.
On the Packers' initial drive, safety Andrew Sendejo recovered a Davante Adams fumble but lost the ball at the 13-yard line as he tried to scamper into the end zone.
"There's really a fine line there," coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. "Defensive players want to get it and score. When they have the opportunity in the open field, they should do that. I don't think we were quite aware of the situation."
In the third quarter, Eric Kendricks and Hunter could not corral another Rodgers fumble in the pocket. Later in the third, pressure by Everson Griffen on third-and-long near midfield separated Rodgers from the ball but cornerback Captain Munnerlyn failed to pounce on it.
Better to miss recovering turnovers than not create them at all.
"We knew our team needed us," said Munnerlyn. "We knew we had to step up in a big way. We took some chances and made plays on the football."
Takeaways are a point of emphasis for a Vikings defense that finished plus-5 last season in turnover ratio. Zimmer wants more. His defense already is playing at a high level as was expected.
It's a small sample size, but entering Monday night's game between Chicago and Philadelphia, the unit ranked fifth in yards allowed (289.5), sixth in points (30) and were tied for fourth in sacks (seven).
Already rocked by the sudden loss of Teddy Bridgewater and forced acquisition of Sam Bradford, now the Vikings face the potential loss of superstar running back Adrian Peterson, who suffered a torn meniscus against the Packers.
The defense is taking it upon itself to take the ball away and give Bradford and company the best chance to succeed.
"We're going to put it on our shoulders and do whatever we can do to put the offense in a good position," Robison said. "Hopefully, we'll keep creating turnovers and giving them good field position.
"We're very confident," he added. "We know there are things we can get better at and we still have a ways to go to get where we want to be. At the end of the day, if we keep moving forward, we'll get there."