Notebook: Vets spoke up about simplifying scheme, Kevin Williams says
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Antoine Winfield wasn't the only veteran on the Minnesota Vikings defense to speak up after a disappointing Week 2 loss at Indianapolis.
"You know how sometimes, like a formation (will) come up, and they'll be like, we wanted to do so and so to this formation and this to that formation?" Williams said this week. "Just let us go and work through it and play off of each other. That's the best thing we've got going for us up front."
In an overtime win against Jacksonville and the loss in Indy, the Vikings' line had one of their four sacks -- by backup Everson Griffen, with the rest coming on blitzes -- and opposing quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Andrew Luck had completed 69% of their passes for 494 yards, two touchdowns and a 106.5 rating.
The day after the Colts game, Winfield addressed teammates to encourage them to be more physical and put in more preparation. Around the same time, Williams said, he and Allen spoke with defensive coordinator Alan Williams and line coach Brendan Daly to remind them "we've had success before."
In two wins since over 2011 playoff qualifiers San Francisco and Detroit, the line has six of the Vikings' eight sacks -- including five against the Lions, who used chips to help the protection all day even though Alan Williams only sent two blitzes all day. Also, halfbacks Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell each averaged only 2.0 yards per carry.
"We just stopped trying to make a call for everything," Kevin Williams said. "The defensive front has been successful the last few years. We didn't do a lot of trick 'em stuff. We just lined up and went after people, and that's basically what we were trying to get 'em to do.
"Just take the reins off and let us go. We can take care of the rush. We don't need to design stuff for the rush. Just let the guys go. We've all pretty much had experience rushing the quarterback and playing this defense. Just basically, let us go and we can handle it. We don't need plays or schemes to handle what we're doing up front."
That's what Allen was talking about when he said on Sunday the Vikings "just weren't playing what our core was. ... The first two games, we weren't us. Coaches really simplified things up front, and we get to play moving forward and let our big guys do what they do."
The Viking secondary played a key role in the pass-rushing success on Sunday as well, with the three sacks coming in 4.3, 4.9 and 5.0 seconds, respectively. But nose tackle Letroy Guion beat guard Stephen Peterson for a sack in 2.8 seconds and Griffen was free on one of the blitzes to take down Matthew Stafford in 1.9 seconds on fourth-and-goal.
That success could impact the Vikings' approach on Sunday against Tennessee and veteran quarterback Matthew Hasselbeck, who will start for the injured Jake Locker (shoulder) and took only 19 sacks while throwing 518 passes last season.
"It's huge for our players, for the coaches, to be able to generate that type of pressure without having to put the secondary under adverse situations," coach Leslie Frazier said.
"It was big. It increases our confidence. You go into your next ballgame feeling a lot better about your rush when that happens, especially against a team that throws it as much as the team we played last Sunday and you go into the game knowing that and the fact that we didn't have to resort to a lot of pressures -- it's a big deal, and hopefully, it'll be something we can continue."
The Vikings are six-point favorites against Tennessee on Sunday -- the first time they've been favored by at least a touchdown in 22 months, according to odds provided by the Bovada Sportsbook.
On Dec. 5, 2010, they were six-point favorites against Buffalo and rolled to a 38-14 win in Frazier's second game as interim coach. This time, they enter as co-leaders in the NFC North Division at 3-1 after being widely picked in the preseason to finish dead last.
What's the key to avoiding a letdown against the 1-3 Titans?
"Don't drink the Kool-Aid," Williams said. "The media is throwing some stuff your way, little more interviews, talking about the Vikings. They're speaking about you more and more.
"Just don't fall into the trap of we've done anything. We haven't done anything yet. If we go 3-1 the next three quarters of the season, then we'll be talking about the Vikings making progress and doing something."
The Vikings listed weakside linebacker Erin Henderson (concussion) as questionable (50% chance of playing) on Friday's injury report.
But he was a full participant in practice for the second consecutive day and Frazier said he should be "fine" to return to his starting role in the base defense.
"The first contact will help him," Frazier said of Henderson, who missed the past two games after reporting concussion symptoms on Sept. 19.
"Once he collides with someone and doesn't have any ringing or anything that causes problems for him, I think that'll help his confidence. Until it happens, it's in the back of your mind -- what's the first contact going to be like?"
Jasper Brinkley will continue to stay on the field in the nickel defense for now, Frazier said, although that could change down the line.
Henderson's top backup, Marvin Mitchell, underwent an MRI that showed he has a calf strain and was listed as doubtful (25% chance of playing).
Allen (groin) returned to practice as a full participant on Friday after sitting out the past two days and was listed as probable ("virtual certainty" of playing).
"We'll have to see how Jared does," Frazier said. "We're expecting him to play and play well on Sunday, but we'll have to monitor how he's doing and where he is over the course of the game and be smart about how we use him in this ballgame, knowing that he's missed a couple days of practice."
Quarterback Christian Ponder (knee) also returned to full participation after being limited on Wednesday and Thursday and was listed as probable.
"We're comfortable," Frazier said. "He moved around well (Thursday). He's moved around well (Friday). There are no ill effects at all. He looks good."
As expected, the Vikings ruled out safeties Mistral Raymond (ankle) and Andrew Sendejo (ankle), who didn't practice all week. Receiver Michael Jenkins (rib) was listed as questionable but should be available on Sunday, Frazier said.
The Titans ruled out Locker and listed five players as questionable. That included starting receiver Kenny Britt (ankle), who didn't practice all week, and middle linebacker Colin McCarthy (ankle). Starting tight end Jared Cook (shoulder) is probable.
• Frazier said the Vikings placed a call to the NFL on Friday morning about CB Josh Robinson's unnecessary roughness penalty for a hard tackle on Lions WR Nate Burleson and expected an explanation soon. Robinson was not fined, a league spokesman said.
• The league spokesman confirmed SLB Chad Greenway was fined $21,000 because he "unnecessarily struck an opponent (Lions WR Calvin Johnson) in the head or neck area." Greenway said on Thursday he will appeal.
• The Vikings re-signed G Tyler Holmes to the practice squad and waived DE Ernest Owusu off the practice squad. Holmes, a rookie from Tulsa, had just been waived off the practice squad on Saturday to make room for TE Allen Reisner.