Notebook: Vikings' D-line breaks through, doubles sack total in win
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The Minnesota Vikings defensive line's breakout game couldn't have come at a better time as their depleted secondary allowed 383 passing yards in Sunday's 34-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London.
Defensive end Jared Allen had his first monster game of the season after not registering a stat in a loss to the Cleveland Browns last week, nabbing 2.5 sacks (all on one drive), three quarterback hits and one pass deflection. Rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd continues to serve in a rotational role, taking part in his first NFL sack (0.5), with the Steelers playing catch up most of the game.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 36 of his 51 throws (71%) for one touchdown and one interception. He converted on three passes of 30 yards or more and at least six throws targeted deeper than 15 yards downfield.
But the defensive line made up for the lapses, as they collectively showed up for the first time this season -- more than doubling their season sack total from four to nine after taking Roethlisberger down five times at Wembley Stadium. The Vikings pass rush got after Roethlisberger much more than that, but Big Ben was elusive and escaped after a Vikings defender got his hand(s) on him at least three times. Five of Roethlisberger's 15 incompletions were pass deflections, two from linemen.
Defensive end Everson Griffen made his first play on the ball this season, sacking Roethlisberger to seal the deal on 3rd-and-goal with less than a minute left in the game. Griffen, Floyd and defensive tackle Fred Evans remain the main men in the rotation. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion and Evans continue to lineup together in run-stop sets. Griffen and Floyd paired up in nickel pass-rush downs and often collapsed the pocket with backup center Fernando Velasco in for the injured All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey (ACL).
Perhaps even more crucial to the win was the +2 turnover differential, lifting their season total to 12 takeaways in four games (had just 22 last year). Linebacker Chad Greenway picked off Roethlisberger's errant throw in the third quarter. The Vikings won for the first time since last year's season finale, coincidentally the first time they've gone without a turnover since the Dec. 30 win over the Green Bay Packers as well.
That didn't come without a little luck, though, as quarterback Matt Cassel was sacked and fumbled the ball in the second quarter, but it bounced 11 yards upfield and receiver Jerome Simpson recovered for the first down. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor had two chances to pick off Cassel early in the game, but came up empty.
AP goes all day in London
The Vikings offensive line wasn't as porous as it had been in previous outings, but running back Adrian Peterson's best game of the season was also due in part to an aging Steelers defense.
After Peterson leaped over cornerback Ike Taylor near the line, safety Ryan Clark had a lead on him as the two angled toward the endzone. Peterson accelerated his stride and blasted past the 33-year-old on his way for the 60-yard score.
The Steelers actually have the third oldest defense in the NFL, behind the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins. Most of the Lions' years come from their reserves, whereas the Steelers' four oldest players start: defensive end Brett Keisel (35), Taylor (33), Clark (33) and safety Troy Polamalu (32). They allowed 115 rushing yards per game entering Sunday and the Steelers surrendered 140 yards, 6.1 yards per carry and two touchdowns to Peterson -- all season highs for the MVP.
Peterson is on pace for 1,648 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns this season.
Chris Kluwe chimes in
Kicker Blair Walsh missed his first field goal of the season, fourth of his career, when he swung wide left from 44 yards out in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
Missed spot with the hold, couple inches inside to Blair. Causes leg swing to come across your body to adjust, ends up with a hooked ball.— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) September 29, 2013
The Vikings cut Kluwe this offseason and drafted Locke in the fifth round of April's draft out of UCLA.
• They survived this late-game scare, but the Vikings have a more looming problem when it comes to putting points on the board in the fourth quarter. The Vikings have now been outscored 41-9 in fourth quarters after putting up zero points in Sunday's final period.
• Rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges was activated and made his NFL debut with three starters inactive due to injury. Hodges recorded his first tackle on the kickoff unit. Safety Mistral Raymond saw action in his first game this season after being inactive for the first three weeks. The one-time starter swapped snaps with safety Andrew Sendejo, who started in place of Sanford.
• Walsh is 12-of-12 from 50-plus yards in his career after converting from 54 yards on Sunday.