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News » Pat Williams makes case for Minnesota Vikings' defensive MVP with his absence

Pat Williams makes case for Minnesota Vikings' defensive MVP with his absence

Pat Williams makes case for Minnesota Vikings' defensive MVP with his absence
Picking a defensive MVP on the Vikings last season was easy.

"E.J. just jumped off the page," Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who led the team in tackles (155) and tackles for loss (14) and was tied for third in sacks (4 1/2). "It was so obvious. But this year, there have been a number of guys because of all the circumstances we've dealt with."

The always-candid Frazier was stumped Thursday as he weighed the credentials of five starters.

"That is hard," he said. "I don't know. I just don't know if I can pick one guy this year. I mean, we've had a multitude of guys who have stepped up and made big plays for us."

Among the candidates:

Cornerback Antoine Winfield was his usual, steady self as a tackler, and he added two interceptions, two sacks and two touchdowns, earning a long-overdue trip to the Pro Bowl.

Defensive tackle Kevin Williams was an active force inside, with 8 1/2 sacks, 52 quarterback pressures and seven tackles for loss.

Linebacker Chad Greenway piled up 149 tackles, 49 more than the next-closest defender, and added 5 1/2 sacks, seven tackles for loss and eight passes defended.

New defensive end Jared Allen finished with 14 1/2 sacks (fifth in the NFL), as well as nine tackles for loss and 52 quarterback hurries.

Yet another player's value might have been underscored by his absence.

Over the past two weeks, the Vikings faced the league's top run offenses without their top run stuffer, Pro Bowl nose tackle Pat Williams. The Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants combined for 233 yards rushing, the highest two-week total of the season against Minnesota, and they regularly ran the ball up the middle, real estate that Williams usually protects.

"He's a vital part of our success. When you talk about our run defense, you can't talk about it without Pat Williams," Frazier said. "He's a candidate for (defensive) MVP, without question."

Each of the 17 defensive players polled for this story included Williams on their short lists, even though he is ninth in tackles (60), sixth in tackles for loss (four), tied for ninth in sacks (one) and ninth in quarterback hurries (five).

He is half of the Williams Wall, the cornerstone of the Vikings' defense, the reason they made NFL history as the first team to lead the league in run defense for three consecutive seasons.

The Vikings have many talented players, yet the duo of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams frustrates opposing offensive coordinators, taking away the most elementary play.

"Those two inside tackles, I think, are two of the best in the business and they have been for a number of years," Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "It's tough to run inside there, but your inside three have to pick up their game a little bit."

Offenses usually give up.

"You might have a team that wants to run up the middle, but they know those two guys are going to be there and you end up passing the ball a lot more," Vikings defensive end Otis Grigsby said.

Williams doesn't have eye-popping stats because - if he's doing his job - those around him do. Williams commands a double team because he lines up over the center, which frees Allen and Kevin Williams as well as the linebackers. Backup Fred Evans also has drawn doubles, but Pat Williams beats them consistently enough anyway.

Middle linebacker Napoleon Harris said Williams anchors what he calls "the bubble," the area in the middle of the trenches.

"He frees up myself as well as the weak-side linebacker to make plays downhill," Harris said. "And when he's getting doubled, he gives other linemen chances to beat single blocks and make plays."

Not surprisingly, without Williams in the lineup, Allen and Kevin Williams had two of their quietest games of the season. The Falcons and Giants shifted their focus to neutralizing Kevin Williams. That strategy largely worked, as neither Allen nor Kevin Williams registered a sack in the final two games.

"I change people's game plans," Pat Williams said. "Teams play me different than anybody else. I see the film.

"Jared is good, but I make him better," Williams said bluntly, "and I make Kevin better."

Williams lauded Evans' play, but he insisted the Falcons and Giants would not have dared run the ball up the middle as much if he were on the field.

"I would have shut that down," he said. "It's a nasty job. But I just love what I do."

The status of Williams, sidelined by a broken bone in his shoulder, will be a game-time decision Sunday, and he is torn about the possibility of missing the game against the Eagles.

"It's hard because I'm a competitive player. I got a side of me saying, 'Be smart,' " he said. "But I got a side of me saying, 'Do it.'

"But me and Coach will do the best thing for me," he said. "We ain't going to jeopardize anything for me."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 2, 2009

Brodrick Bunkley Name: Brodrick Bunkley
Position: DT
Age: 24
Experience: 3 years
College: Florida State
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