Top 5 Bright Spots of 2010: #3

Posted Jan 4, 2011

Coming in at #3 in the Top 5 bright spots of the 2010 season is the stability of the Vikings defense and its leadership by team veterans.

The Vikings have boasted one of the premier defenses over recent years and continued that trend in 2010. Their overall record may not be representative of how well the defense played this season, but for the 3rd consecutive season the Vikings ranked in the top 10 overall defense, and for the 5th consecutive season they ranked as a top 10 rushing defense.

This is the first time since the seasons of 1992-94 where the Vikings had 3 consecutive seasons of top 10 overall defenses, as well as the first time since 1962-1966 where they posted 5 consecutive seasons of a top 10 rushing defense. Such numbers are a true reflection of consistent veteran leadership and dominant play by team leaders.

The leadership by veterans is also distributed throughout the defense. Up front, 7-year veteran DE Jared Allen and 8-year veteran DT Kevin Williams anchored a rushing roadblock and relentless pass rush. Allen recorded his 4th consecutive season with at least 10.0 sacks and set a career-high for INTs in a season with 2.

Allen’s most memorable turnover in 2010 came during the last game of the season at Detroit where he picked off Lions QB Shaun Hill and returned it 36 yards for a score – his 1st-career pick-6. He finished the 2010 season with 60 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 2 INTs and a forced fumble (FF).

Williams’ stats for this past season were nothing spectacular (39 tackles, a sack and a FF), but he was an integral part in maintaining a top 10 defense. The 8-year veteran’s consistency may well be his best attribute as Williams played and started in all 16 games this season, extending his consecutive games played streak to 83 dating back to 2005.

The man in the middle of the Vikings defense, who led the team in tackles for the 3rd consecutive season, was 5-year veteran LB Chad Greenway.

Greenway posted a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2010 with 144 tackles, a sack and a FF, but the lack of “splash plays,” such as sacks and INTs, led to his absence from the all-star team. His 144 tackles set a career-high and ranked 4th in the league. He also recorded 5 games with at least 10 tackles – the most in 1 season during his 5-year career.

To round out the defense, 12-year veteran CB Antoine Winfield secured the Vikings secondary with 91 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2 FFs and 2 INTs. Winfield surpassed the 1,000-tackle mark in 2010 and now has 1,008 career tackles. Winfield’s biggest game of the 2010 season came in the Week 16 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles where he posted 9 tackles, 2.0 sacks and a FF that was returned 45 yards for a TD to tie the game at 7 just before halftime.

His outstanding performance against Eagles QB Michael Vick and Co. earned Winfield NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors – his 2nd such award during his career (at New Orleans, 10/6/08).

The sack-fumble return against the Eagles marked Winfield’s 5th career return TD. He now has 2 career INT returns, 2 career fumble returns and a blocked FG return for TD. His 5 return TDs rank behind only Ed Sharockman in team history. Sharockman had 6 – 3 on INTs, 2 on blocked punts and 1 on a fumble recovery.

The Vikings are known for their stout defense and 2010 solidified that notion. Allen, Greenway, Williams and Winfield led the defensive unit with veteran leadership and set a standard of high-energy play – one that will be looked to replicate in 2011 for themselves as well as the younger players on the team. And that’s why the veteran leadership on the Vikings defense deserves #3 on the Top 5 bright spots of the 2010 season.