Notebook: Vikings want to mix it up when it comes to defensive scheme
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have been considered to play a Tampa-2 defense since Brad Childress took over as head coach in 2006 and hired Mike Tomlin from Tampa Bay to be his coordinator.
That didn't change in 2007 when Leslie Frazier replaced Tomlin after the latter was hired as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Vikings officials long have said that classifying their defense as exclusively a Tampa-2 isn't accurate because they mixed in other looks as well.
That proved to be the case in the Vikings' 26-23 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday at the Metrodome -- the first game for Alan Williams as the team's defensive coordinator.
"When we were playing our best defense, we were not a heavy Cover-2 team and our personnel is getting back to where we need it to be," said Frazier, who was promoted from coordinator to coach during the 2010 season when Childress was fired.
"The last couple of years, we've struggled on the back end from a personnel standpoint, but we're getting to where we need to be so we can mix up a little bit more and not be as predictable as we had become. It's more about our personnel than anything."
Williams spent the previous 10 seasons as the defensive backs coach with the Indianapolis Colts, the team the Vikings will face on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Frazier, in fact, helped Williams coach the Colts defensive backs in 2005 and '06.
But despite Williams' knowledge of the Colts' personnel, it's going to be hard for him to help much from a scouting standpoint since Indianapolis has switched to a 3-4 defense under new coach Chuck Pagano.
"The scheme is completely different," Frazier said when asked how much input Williams can provide. "There are a few guys, from a personnel standpoint, that we can ask him about but schematically, not even close. We don't even really talk about the current scheme versus what he was familiar with there."
The Colts were known for years for playing a Tampa-2 defense under former coach Tony Dungy, but that has changed. They're now playing a sort of hybrid scheme similar to the one Pagano directed as coordinator last season in Baltimore.
"There are some things they are doing with moving people that create some problems, which we have to try to simulate in practice, because it's not always going to be a standard 3-4 that you see in a game-plan book," Frazier said. "We'll have to figure out a way to give our players a look at some of the things they do schematically."
The Vikings were lucky to get the victory last Sunday after Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts beat cornerback Chris Cook to catch a 39-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
"We were in a three-deep coverage, and what you want to be able to do is in 3-deep, you never want to let anyone get behind you," Frazier said.
"That's what you're always preaching in three-deep and we probably could have done some things to help Chris in that situation. But the goal in three-deep is to never let anyone get behind you. That's the premise of the coverage."
The score gave Jacksonville a 23-20 lead. But the Vikings rallied and got field goals from Blair Walsh at the end of regulation and in overtime to win.
Cook also gave up a 26-yard catch to Laurent Robinson but was credited with three pass breakups and recorded his first career sack.
"I felt like I played pretty good," Cook said. "There is always room for improvement. I am happy with how I played, but I definitely feel like I could play better."
About that rotation
The Vikings have long subscribed to the theory of rotating their defensive linemen in order to keep them fresh. But this hasn't always meant there has been a true rotation in place when it comes to the entire line.
Right end Jared Allen, for instance, rarely leaves the game. That was the case again Sunday as Allen played 73 snaps and left end Brian Robison played 72 snaps. Kevin Williams, who started at defensive tackle, had 63 snaps and starting nose tackle Letroy Guion had 41.
"I thought it was good for us and it's something we have to continue to grow and develop and make sure the guys we do put in for our starters are really living up to the things that we expect," Frazier said. "But it was a good start for us, to be able to get that rotation going in a fashion we think will help us over the long haul."
The Jaguars' opening drive covered 77 yards in 17 plays, but the Vikings starters remained on the field and helped hold Jacksonville to a field goal.
So, would having employed the rotation at that point helped?
"You don't anticipate 17-play drives," Frazier said. "If you see it become inept maybe you do things a little bit different, but you don't anticipate that. In that case, there was a lot of football to be played. But we'll see how it goes. Hopefully, we won't get too many more of those."
Back to normal?
Halfback Adrian Peterson remains on the Vikings' injury report, listed with a knee issue, but he took part in all of Wednesday's practice after rushing for 84 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns last Sunday.
That marked his first game back since having surgery last Dec. 30 to repair the torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.
How close is the running back to his pre-surgery form?
"I think he's pretty close, but we've got so much football to be played and he needs to get a little more work under his belt to really gauge that," Frazier said.
"But man, where he is right now coming off of surgery. I don't think there's any team that would turn down having him as their running back, their feature back. He may not be quite where he was prior to the injury but he's pretty close."
Although Peterson lobbied the Vikings' brass to put him back on the field, he hasn't been vocal this week about how many carries he wants against the Colts. At least not yet.
"He hasn't talked about that part of it," Frazier said. "I think he's just happy he was able to play as well as he played and come out of it with no harm done. ... He hasn't really talked about more carries but, of course, I'm sure that conversation will come up as the week goes on. But not yet."
Keeping track of Percy
There might have been more passes directed toward Harvin, except for Jacksonville often put double coverage on the wide receiver in the red zone and also managed to eliminate him late in the fourth quarter when Ponder ended up completing a 26-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu on the first play of the Vikings' game-tying drive.
Ponder knows the Jaguars won't be the last team that focuses on taking away Harvin as much as possible.
"I think guys realize the kind of player and caliber player that Percy is and how important he is in this offense," Ponder said.
"So, we expect that they're not going to let Percy run all over the place and get open. That's why the depth on this team is so important, that other guys can step up and make plays when they have to."
Who was the target?
In the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, with the Vikings facing a second-and-3 from the Jacksonville 13, Ponder threw a pass into the end zone that was in the direction of both Aromashodu and Harvin.
The issue was it wasn't clear who was supposed to catch the ball and neither one did. The Vikings ended up settling for a 42-yard Walsh field goal after a holding penalty was called on guard Charlie Johnson on third down.
"It was a miscommunication," Ponder said when asked about the second-down play. "Usually, on those plays, if a guy has what we call a burst route with press coverage, it usually converts into a fade. But on that particular play, we had talked about maybe keeping it off and trying to keep the burst on so we could run a fade by the inside guy.
"Just a little confusion, and it's going to happen. There are so many different moving parts to this offense that guys are still learning and it'll be fixed."
If you can't say something nice ...
The replacement officials made a few errors and bad calls in Sunday's game at the Metrodome, including an illegal cut penalty on Vikings wide receiver Michael Jenkins. A replay showed that Jenkins did nothing illegal in throwing the block.
Frazier might have had a strong opinion about this behind closed doors, but NFL coaches have been told not to criticize the replacement refs and Frazier wasn't about to go against that order.
"The officials called it," Frazier said. "We can't allow it to happen and we have to find a way to overcome those penalties when they do happen. That's what I talked to our team about. We make no excuses about anything. We can't allow that to happen in that situation."
Walsh was named NFC special teams player of the week for his performance in Sunday's victory.
Walsh, the sixth-round draft pick from Georgia last April, made all four of his field-goal attempts -- including a 55-yarder to tie the score as regulation ended and a 38-yarder to give the Vikings the lead in overtime.
He's the first rookie kicker in Vikings history to win the award. Walsh's predecessor, Ryan Longwell, last won it in 2008.
• Fullback Jerome Felton played 32 snaps against the Jaguars, an indication of just how much he brought to the blocking game. "I think sometimes it depends on how teams are playing us, but Jerome had a heck of a game," Frazier said when asked about Felton's playing time. "He played extremely well and that was a lot of snaps for him. There wasn't one time a season ago we had that many snaps with our fullback on the field. A lot of it had to do with the way he played and what's happening when he's on the field. It was really encouraging for all of us to see him dominate the way he did."
• Tight end John Carlson took the practice field Wednesday without the brace he had been wearing on his right knee and instead just had the knee wrapped. Carlson, signed by the Vikings during the offseason as a free agent, suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament early in training camp and did not play in the preseason. He was the target of one Ponder pass on Sunday and had no receptions. "We wanted to see where he was health-wise and make sure he could finish the game, that mattered," Frazier said. "We do want him to get more action this week and try to get him involved a little bit more. That'll be a part of our goal."
Tom Pelissero and Dana Wessel contributed.