Quick, name four players on Minnesota's defense. Get there? I didn't. Honestly, the only name that immediately sprung to mind was Darren Sharper, and he's hardly a game-changer at this point in his career. That's not to say this defense isn't talented. They are. They just happen to be young and not yet on most of our radar screens. For as good as Minnesota's defense was against the run this year, it's incredible that they accomplished what they did with so few high-profile defensive players. In my mind, plenty of credit must then be assigned to the coach, Mike Tomlin.
Minnesota's D yielded just 61. yards per game. In the first four weeks of the season, the Vikings gave up 2 100-yard performances in the first two games, and 95 yards to the Bills in Week 4. Mike Tomlin was still teaching, still instilling an identity within his unit.
From that point forward, the Vikings defense went on a terror stopping the run. The anemic Detroit rushing attack was limited to 16 yards on 11 carries in Week 5, as the Vikings inched back above .500 at 3-2.
The streak of games holding opponents under 100-yards rushing was extended to 8 when the Vikings held Edgerin Games to 17 yards in Week 12. By now, people were taking notice: this Vikings run-defense was for real. All of a sudden, Mike Tomlin's intense, engaged personality and coaching style was seen more frequently on TV.
The streak ended in week 17, when the out-of-gas Vikings got steamrolled by Steven Jackson and the Rams at the Metrodome. It was a disappointing ending to a topsy-turvy season for the Vikings. Optimism had run wild when the Vikings opened the season 2-0. Brad Johnson was the consumate 'game manger'--or so we were told by ESPN. The defense seemd promising, and Brad Childers was annointed the perfect hire just two games into the season. A 2-game slide was dismissed as an aberration when the Vikings crunched Seattle and improved to 4-2. At this point, Minnesota was the trendy pick to make the playoffs for pundits, journalists, and bloggers alike.
Although the Vikings defense did their part during the middle part of the season, the pass coverage, and the offense did not. The Vikings proceeded to lose 5 of their next 6, and stood at 5-7 with just four games to go.
Remember, this was the NFC though. When the Vikings beat Detroit in Week 14, they were 6-7, and still very much in the thick of the Wild Card race. They of course, proceeded to lose their next 3, including a back-breaking 7-9 loss to the Packers at Lambeau.
But don't blame the run defense for any of Minnesota's woes. This was an explosive, fast, sure-tackling unit all year long. And the part that excites me most is I believe a whole lot of stopping the run is predicated on heart and determination. Are you willing to suck it up when you're tired, dig in, fill a hole, and make a hit when you're tired in the 2nd half? It takes more than just X's and O's to stop the run in the NFL (although being in the right place certainly is a big part of it). It also takes pride. Part of that has to be instilled by the coach.
Tomlin seems like the type of coach today's NFL player would be willing to go to war for. That, above all else, is what excites me about our new head coach.