If head coach Mike Tice’s comments are any indication, the 3-4 defense Minnesota primarily played against Chicago on Sunday is here to stay. Sure, the Vikings lost 28-3 while using the look they first displayed against Tampa Bay in the season opener, but most of the Bears’ points came because of field position.
Minnesota gave up just 192 yards of total offense and just one drive of 50 or more yards.
“I like the direction we went with the 3-4,” Tice said. “I thought it was a good decision. Having seven healthy linebackers and no healthy base ends, something needed to be done. I thought the decision to go to 3-4 was very good. It gave us much more speed on the end and allowed us to collapse the pocket.”
With Kenechi Udeze lost for the season and Spencer Johnson inactive, the coaching staff decided on Wednesday morning that the 3-4 alignment was the way to go. Keith Newman and Raonall Smith started on the outside, while E.J. Henderson and Sam Cowart were in the middle.
Kevin Williams and Darrion Scott started on either side of the line, with Pat Williams at nose tackle. Pat Williams finished with seven tackles and drew the praise of Tice on Monday.
“I thought yesterday Pat Williams played one of the best games I’ve seen a nose tackle play in quite some time,” Tice said. “He was quite dominant.”
And while its tough to judge how successful the new defensive scheme can be after one game against a one-dimensional offense, the players liked the 3-4 alignment.
“I think the scheme brought us some speed and we played with more off an aggressive attitude,” safety Darren Sharper said.
Smith’s contributions had been almost solely on special teams so far this season, as he entered Sunday’s contest tied for the team lead with five special team tackles. Smith had no defensive statistics in the first four games.
But in Chicago, Smith recorded three tackles and was around the football several more times while also picking up two more special teams tackles.
Smith obviously has no say in the game plan on a week-by-week basis, but enjoyed his chance to start and see a considerable amount of action.
“It worked really well I think,” Smith said. “If they’d like to do that again, I’d definitely like to.”
As for the rest of the linebackers, Cowart finished with six tackles while Newman and Henderson each had three. Overall the defense forced one turnover – a Corey Chavous interception – and would’ve had a fumble return for a touchdown had an offsides penalty not nullified the play.
Although Johnson will likely return to the active roster for next Sunday’s tilt with the Packers, he likely still won’t be at 100 percent. And while Erasmus James has progressed well and continues to show more energy in practice, the number of plays for the defensive end group will go down if the Vikings decide to stick with the 3-4 look.
And with Lance Johnstone still nicked up and Johnson less than 100 percent, Tice’s hand may be forced.
“I don’t know that right now we have much choice because we don’t have anyone else,” Tice said. “No one will come in off the street and play at the level of the guys we have. I liked what we did yesterday. I look at the overall defense and thought yesterday there were a lot more good things than bad things for the first time since the New Orleans game.”