A weekly look at a player whose performance must improve in 2011.
Defensive players haven't been featured much in this Pressure Point series. But the Vikings are in transition right now, and more is needed from Jared Allen after a somewhat down season. For Minnesota to improve defensively, Allen needs to regain his Pro Bowl form.
The Vikings' defensive line has been a foundation of the organization and a dominant group in recent memory. But Pat Williams is on his way out, and Ray Edwards, a free agent, probably will follow. Minnesota did re-sign Brian Robison, which cannot be overlooked.
It is conceivable that the Vikings will use a high draft pick to help fortify their defensive line. Youngsters such as Everson Griffen or especially Letroy Guion should be primed for an increase in playing time and the chance to show what they are capable of doing. If Allen is the threat that he was before 2010, those adjustments and personnel changes will go much more smoothly.
In 2010, Allen was not among the best 4-3 defensive ends in football. He did appear in every game and posted 11 sacks, but the pressure on opposing quarterbacks was not nearly as constant as it was in his three previous seasons. In those three years, Allen notched a whopping 44.5 sacks. He was much more consistent during that time, not only in his pass-rush but in his entire game.
Allen was a liability against the run in 2010. He did play much better in the second half of the season, but he had more poor games than usual. Minnesota needs Allen at top form for 16 games. Maybe injuries were an unknown issue -- his hustle did not seem to wane. Still, the poor play against the run is troubling, and he didn't defeat single blocks with the frequency that he once did in the passing game.
Although he still beat below-average players, good offensive linemen were shutting down Allen more than they used to. Allen is also 28 years old and has never had the quick-twitch athletic ability of pass-rushers such as Dwight Freeney, John Abraham or Clay Matthews. So when his skills inevitably erode -- even slightly -- he might not be able to recover as well as some others. Has Allen's career begun to decline? The Vikings had better hope not.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.