EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When he talks to reporters each Thursday, defensive coordinator Alan Williams usually arrives at the podium in the Minnesota Vikings' fieldhouse with a few pleasantries before taking questions. On this Thursday, though, Williams arrived at the podium with an opening statement that almost seemed like something he had rehearsed.
He had just finished talking to defensive end Brian Robison and safety Jamarca Sanford about similar themes, Williams said, before he jumped into a spirited set of talking points about staying the course and trusting the Vikings' system.
"Just talking with some of our players about kind of how we do things here in Minnesota -- just about our way of doing things and what we expect in terms of expectations and we’re still building that," Williams said. "We’re still building the foundation to win football games, and we want this to be the model of the NFL. To be that, you have to build a firm foundation. You have to go through, sometimes, some growing pains, which we are right now. You don’t want it, but to build something solid, sometimes you have to go with that. It’s no different from raising your kids, building a family, building a top-notch organization."
The timing was interesting, considering how the Vikings' porous defense seemed to have bottomed out on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Minnesota allowed a season-high 44 points (though seven came off Micah Hyde's punt return) and the Packers' 464 yards trailed only the Detroit Lions' 469 in the season opener for the most the Vikings have given up. During the game, cameras caught defensive end Jared Allen on the sideline, saying, "This is the worst defense I've ever been on," though Allen said on Wednesday he wasn't making a sweeping statement about the players or scheme.
Players haven't outwardly criticized the Vikings' scheme, though several made veiled comments after the Vikings' last-minute loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 2, and veterans like Robison, Allen and Chad Greenway have expressed some frustration since then. The Vikings don't play quite as much anymore in the Cover-2 scheme they've used for years under Williams, Frazier and Mike Tomlin, but they are one of the few remaining teams that employ it as their base defense. And in a scheme that requires a defense to be strong up the middle, the Vikings have been under additional stress this season with safety Harrison Smith possibly out for the season because of turf toe and middle linebacker Erin Henderson in a new position.
"It’s one thing that you reinforce all the time because guys go home, they have wives, they read the paper, they look at the news," Williams said. "You have all these voices that say,'Hey, there are different ways of doing things.' I do know that it’s something that you continue to reinforce, even when you’re winning. That’s something that even last year we reinforced, but it just wasn’t a major deal because you’re winning ballgames. Even when you’re winning, sometimes guys think, you know what, I have a different way of doing something so I can even get more sacks or more interceptions or more tackles. You say, 'Nope. We have a core value of the way we do things, and that’s how you win championships.'"
However noble that approach might be, Williams could be on borrowed time to work with the Vikings' defense, if the front office would decide to make coaching changes following a season that has started with six losses in seven games. The Vikings gambled on youth in some key spots of their defense, and they're paying the price for that -- "It's not like there are quick fixes that you can bring in 11 Pro Bowlers," Williams said.
At this point, the best hope for the Vikings might be that young players, particularly in the secondary, show enough improvement from now until the end of the season that the coaching staff gets another shot to work with them.
"At some point you’re going to find out that the rock is going to break," Williams said. "It is going to break for you. You are going to see results. You may not see results now in terms of wins. But guys are improving. They are getting better. I know in the NFL, it’s a matter of, hey, the wins are really what counts, but sometimes the wins cover up a multitude of sins or stinks, and you’ve just got to keep grinding.”