With the most takeaways in a game since 1995 - 7 in all - the Vikings climbed the league charts in takeaways last Sunday and now rank 4th overall for the season.
And that’s a good thing.
Takeaways Are Good - Just Don’t Get Dependent
It’s a good thing because while the Vikings have shown they can create takeaways, it’s not something that they really depend upon or count on, like the Bears do because their offense is, well, in need of help. For that reason, I’ve always been a bit skeptical about teams with a lot of takeaways because, at some point, they don’t happen and that can lead to unexpected losses if a team gets used to having them.
Another NFC North example is the Packers, who were rolling along early in the season with 8 takeaways in the first 3 games. But then there were none and they lost to the struggling Eagles. They came back against Dallas and they won. But then they didn’t get any against Detroit and nearly (or more accurately should’ve) lost. They came again against the Raiders and Chiefs and they were rolling again. But then they stopped again in LA and they got beat handily by the Chargers. Against the Panthers they returned and they won. The following week against the 49ers they were absent and they got blown out. Against the Giants, ‘Skins, and Bears they came again and they won. And so the story of the Packers season: no takeaways, no joy.
Fortunately for the Vikings, their season hasn’t been so correlated with takeaways. Turnovers, perhaps, but not takeaways. But turnovers at least you have more control over.
But Nothing Wrong with Generating a Good Takeaway Either
For as long as I can remember, the Vikings haven’t really been noted as a big takeaway machine on defense. Certainly in the Zimmer era, that hasn’t been as big a focus despite having a very good unit. Prior to Zimmer as well, it never really seemed to be much of an area of focus.
But this season, Zimmer has spoken a couple times about generating turnovers, and said that they practice it as well, including reviewing all the turnovers in the league each Friday, and dissecting how they were accomplished. He said that seems to have taken hold, and players now are taking some pride in generating turnovers.
It’s interesting that the seven takeaways last Sunday against the Chargers were generated by six different players. And for the season, 14 players have at least one of the 25 takeaways the Vikings defense has generated.
Practicing the Art of the Takeaway
Looking back at the Vikings takeaways, it seems different players have different ways to generate a takeaway, whether it be a forced fumble or interception. Of course some of that is dependent on their position, or at least can influence it. Here are some examples:
The Kendricks Belly Drop
I’ll call this the Kendricks Belly Drop. Eric Kendricks either pushes or pulls the ball out when the receiver brings it into his midsection to secure.
Here’s another one:
The Hunter Hug
I’ll call this the Hunter Hug - Danielle Hunter gets his big mitt across the chest of his victim, and good things happen.
Both of these methods operate on the same principle. There is basically a one-foot square area where a player holds or secures the ball, so getting your hand in that space at the right time can cause disruption - and hopefully a fumble.
Then there is this one:
The DB Shoulder Smash
Many defensive backs use the Peanut Punch to try to force a fumble, named after Charles “Peanut” Tillman, where they try to punch the ball out from behind. The problem with that is from a tackling perspective, it’s fundamentally very unsound. Either you go for the Peanut Punch or you make a good tackle - doing both at the same time isn’t possible. At least not without help.
The DB Shoulder Smash, however, combines sound tackling technique with a focus on fumble generation. By aiming the shoulder pad at the ball, this technique looks to smash the ball out of the ball-carrier’s hands on impact - and can be very effective if difficult to execute precisely. Rhodes, Waynes and Mike Hughes have all used this technique to force a fumble this season.
Of course there are the classic methods too.
Here Shamar Stephen manages the classic rip/hack forced fumble.
Near Textbook INT
At the bottom of the GIF above, Mike Hughes manages good INT technique that has been all too uncommon among Vikings cornerbacks for as long as I can remember. He gives the outside release, sticks with him using his closing burst, while looking back for the ball and timing his leap well. Better technique would have been to pin him to the sideline, but the most important thing is to look back for the ball - something Vikings’ CBs have difficulty doing in a timely fashion most of the time.
Most Vikings’ interceptions come from one of the safeties tracking an errant throw down the field, or floating a bad decision down the field for a more routine interception. Both of these by Philip Rivers last Sunday were the latter variety, and were fairly easy interceptions for Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, who were able to track the ball well and jump in front for the pick.
Practicing the art of the takeaway is one way for the Vikings defense to improve and be more effective. In past years they haven’t generated many turnovers, and perhaps it wasn’t as much of a focus.
But this year, coach Zimmer and his staff have spent more time looking at techniques and trying to incorporate them into their game. And with a key two-game stretch and postseason on the horizon, generating a key turnover here and there could make the difference between winning and going home. Especially on the road, where there’s nothing like a home team turnover to quiet a crowd.