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Vikings’ defense has improved quickly

By Dan Wiederer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

The conversation came with little panic and less contention.

Following a 23-20 Week 2 loss in Indianapolis, a handful of veterans on the Vikings defense — led by Jared Allen and Kevin Williams — met with new defensive coordinator Alan Williams for an urgent “Let’s get it together” meeting.

The players were frustrated, naturally.

Following crucial breakdowns late in the fourth quarter of their first two games, the defensive leaders were searching for solutions. But they were hardly on the verge of a mutiny.

Instead, what the two veteran defensive linemen wanted most in their discussion with Alan Williams was a forum to suggest tweaks and express their thoughts on why some breakdowns were occurring.

Williams wanted his players to understand the defensive calls being made and adhere to their respective roles within them. The players, in turn, wanted Williams to know some of the coverages and calls they were most comfortable with in certain situations.

Best of all, for both sides, the discussion was civil and productive, with Williams absorbing all suggestions with a listening ear.

Said defensive end Brian Robison: “It comes down to people not letting egos get in the way — players not letting egos get in the way, coaches not letting egos get in the way. And (Alan’s) done a great job of understanding what his players are comfortable with, trying to compromise and find a way that we can both get done what we need to get done.

“It’s resulting in wins so far.”

Following Sunday’s 30-7 thrashing of the Titans, the Vikings will head to Washington this week at 4-1 and with their defensive swagger rising.

Since that meeting early in Week 3, the defense has turned its performance up a notch. The Vikings haven’t trailed in their past three games. And in the first halves of their past three victories, they have given up a grand total of nine points.

On top of that, the Vikings have been dialed into their assignments.

In Week 3, the 49ers managed only 89 yards on the ground and totaled only 13 points, matching their second-lowest output in the past two seasons.

In Week 4, the Vikings made Lions receiver Calvin Johnson the focal point of their defensive game plan and held the All-Pro to five catches for 54 yards.

On Sunday, Titans running back Chris Johnson was the guy with the laser sights on him. And Johnson would have had more success breaking loose if he had been running through the sloppy mud of an overcrowded pig pen.

He finished Sunday with 15 carries and 24 yards, gaining more than 3 yards only twice.

Suddenly, a defense that was shredded consistently in 2011 is establishing itself as one of the league’s best. The Vikings are sixth in the NFL in points allowed (15.8 per game) and second in yards given up per play (4.5)

Williams, the first-year coordinator, deserves praise for his role in the turnaround, rallying his troops while still being receptive to their feedback.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier recognized Williams’ communication skills as a strength when he hired him in January.

“His ability to be able to listen to what the players have to say, and not always feel like he has to be right, I mean that’s a good quality to have,” Frazier said. “And he’s done a good job of listening to some of their suggestions, and incorporating some of them, along with being able to say no when he needs to say no.”

Having a coach with that approach, Robison said, only heightens the players’ motivation.

“(With a lot of coaches), it’s call guys together and tell them, ‘Hey, this is what needs to be done,’ instead of saying, ‘Hey, what are you guys thinking?’ ” Robison said. “To hear that from him just kind of boosts your confidence a little bit. … When you have that kind of confidence in a coach, knowing that he has that type of confidence in his players, it really makes you want to play better for him.”

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