EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Leslie Frazier has held firm to his feelings of how to win in the NFL since taking over as the Minnesota Vikings head coach almost two years ago.
Frazier, in many ways from the old-school line of thinking, wants to establish a strong running game and play sound defense. He’s witness the trends and heard about the opinions that the NFL is now a passing league. But Frazier, a former defensive back on the Chicago Bears teams in the 1980s, has his own ideas, shaped in many ways from his time as a player.
Chicago’s defense during Frazier’s time was legendary, and the offense was led by Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton. Frazier’s Vikings are developing the same type of formula in 2012, bucking the NFL trends, and doing so in winning fashion.
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“I like it any time we win,” Frazier said Monday. “However way we do it, I just like to win.”
Minnesota (5-2) is winning while playing to its strengths, built on a revitalized defense and letting star running back Adrian Peterson pace the offense. There’s no surprise the blueprint follows the Walter Payton/defense-led Bears teams of yesteryear. Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman, have shaped a roster to win with a run-first offense and improving defense. Built on those “old-school” ideals, the Vikings have been able to win games when not playing their best, such as Sunday when they had seven penalties, many at critical points, and the passing game accounted for just 43 net yards.
“I think the way we have tried to structure our team and the philosophy lends itself to win games like this,” Frazier said after Sunday’s game. When you are not completing a lot of balls down the field, in a league where so many say that’s the way you have to win, to be able to play good defense, to be able to have good special teams…For our running back, Adrian Peterson, who is the premier back, to know they’re going to be in eight-man fronts, nine-man fronts at times, and be able to rush for 153 yards, that’s the formula for success if you’re in a tough situation throwing the football.
“Credit to our guys for buying into that philosophy and finding a way to get a win.”
Frazier didn’t have an easy time establishing the identity. His late-season, six-game run as interim coach in 2010 helped earn Frazier the permanent head coaching job. Last season’s lockout, and installing new offensive and defensive coordinators, stalled Frazier’s desire to institute his beliefs.
Now, with Adrian Peterson getting stronger by the week, and a defense that has been perhaps the biggest surprise in the one-year turnaround, Frazier has his Vikings in playoff contention following last year’s 3-13 record.
Peterson, who has returned from major knee surgery in December and played through an ankle injury the past three weeks, is now fourth in the league with 652 rushing yards. Minnesota’s defense has allowed just 18.7 points-per-game, the sixth-lowest total in the league, and 319.7 yards-per-game, the eighth-lowest total.
Frazier knows balance is needed, but winning a game like Sunday can be rewarding too.
“There are times where if something is being taken away, you have to be good in other areas,” Frazier said. “Fortunately for us, we’re at a point as a team where we can make up for some deficiencies in other areas. There was a time when that might not have been the case. But it shows that we’re growing as a team. We’re finding ways to win games. But I do believe you need to be a balanced attack on offense in order to be successful in the long term.”
Meanwhile, the Vikings can take solace in winning games like Sunday, being the type of team that can overcome adversity and “win ugly” if necessary. Tight end Kyle Rudolph said after Sunday’s game, “It’s just one of those games where an ugly win is better than a pretty loss any day.”
Quarterback Christian Ponder said, “It’s a good thing to be disappointed when you’re 5-2.”
Minnesota believes Sunday’s game is another sign of progress.
“Winning games like that, everyone always says within football, those are the signs of a good team,” safety Harrison Smith said Monday. “So, pulling out those wins that maybe you didn’t play your best game, that’s just how you get wins in this league because everybody’s so good. You’re never going to play you’re highest ball each week, so you have to have wins like that.”