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Updated: August 18th, 2012 12:33am
After rocky opening act, Vikings defense shows improvement vs. Bills

After rocky opening act, Vikings defense shows improvement vs. Bills

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS - Just as he refused to get too upset following the Minnesota Vikings' loss at San Francisco in their preseason opener a week earlier, Alan Williams wasn't about to get overly excited about the performance of his defense Friday after a 36-14 exhibition victory over the Buffalo Bills at the Metrodome.

"I always say, 'It's not as bad as it looks and it's never as good as it looks,'" said Williams, the Vikings' first-year defensive coordinator. "I'll reserve judgment until I look at the tape and see what we did well and see if we can keep doing that and see what we didn't do so well."

Williams might believe in staying even keel, but there is little doubt that when he watches the film of Friday's effort he is going to find it to be preferable to what happened a week earlier.

With veterans Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield making their preseason debuts Friday, the Vikings' entire top defense played two series and did not give up any points. The unit surrendered a total of 6 yards.

This came after the Vikings gave up a touchdown to the 49ers on their opening drive last Friday in San Francisco and then with a few starters left in the game had quarterback Colin Kaepernick dash 78 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Overall, the Vikings surrendered 260 rushing yards to the 49ers on 42 carries in a 17-6 loss. The Bills had 68 yards on 20 attempts.

"You've got to put things in perspective," Allen said when asked if the Vikings put a special emphasis on stopping the run Friday. "A group of us didn't play (in San Francisco), but that wasn't an excuse. ... Our thing (we said) was, 'I don't care whether it was practice, 260 yards rushing is unacceptable.' So tonight it wasn't so much an emphasis on stopping the run, it was an emphasis on doing your job.

"Whatever your technique on that play is, whatever your gap responsibility, do your job and finish it to the best of your ability. And that showed up tonight. They didn't get any traction in the run game. (The starters) were (in) for eight plays total. Guys were flying around and it was good to see that continuity. Everybody was playing off each other. Everybody was hustling to the ball."

After starting Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond at safety in the opener, first-round pick Harrison Smith took over for Sanford. Veteran Fred Evans replaced starting nose tackle Letroy Guion, who missed the game because of a knee injury.

The Bills got a quick first down on their opening possession with Fred Jackson gaining 3 yards on a run and Ryan Fitzpatrick completing an 8-yard pass to Jackson. That put the ball at the Bills 29-yard line.

Jackson gained 1 yard on a rush and then was thrown for a 2-yard loss on a nice play by Raymond, who struggled against the 49ers and took a poor angle on a 23-yard run by Brandon Jacobs.

"That was great to see," Williams said. "It's a matter of finding the right angle and getting to the ball. It was a bad angle last week and this week he took a good angle. He still has a huge learning curve with moving to the position, so we'll keep trying to build on the good things he does and see if we can eliminate the poor things."

After Raymond's nice play, the Vikings held on third-and-11 with Jackson catching a 1-yard pass.

Buffalo's second possession went three-and-out with running back C.J. Spiller being thrown for an 8-yard loss on second-and-7 from his own 32 yard line.

"We talked a bit about how we want to play run defense and we wanted to see some improvement in that area," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We know with the new faces that we have on defense that it's going to take a little bit of time. It's going to be a process.

"We wanted to see improvement and we did. I thought our first unit, in particular, did a great job of stopping the run. We've built our defense on being able to stop the run and getting to the quarterback. We don't have a chance if people can be balanced. We have to be able to defend the run and tonight we did a much better job of it."

All of the defensive starters were out of the game by the beginning of the third quarter.

After giving up a 1-yard touchdown run to the Bills' Tashard Choice that completed a four-play, 80-yard drive to open the third quarter, the Vikings did not allow another point.

Linebacker Audie Cole, a seventh-round pick last April, ended up being the star of the night returning interceptions of 20 and 30 yards for touchdowns in a span of 13 seconds in the fourth quarter. The first pick came off Tyler Thigpen -- and was upheld as a touchdown after a review to see whether Cole's knee had hit the ground before he scored --and the second came off Brad Smith.

Asked how many career interceptions he had returned for touchdowns, Cole said, "Ah, counting today? Two."

That was good enough for Allen.

"Our young guys came in and continued (the momentum)," he said. "They had the one slip up on a couple long runs on the pass they got the touchdown. But then they answered the bell back and got two turnovers, two pick sixes. That's awesome." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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