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What Happened to the Vikings Defense?

By: Tanishka Mhaskar
Editor: Preet Shah
September 30th, 2018

One question has been going through each Minnesota Vikings fan—really, each NFL fan. What happened to the Vikings defense? Every year in the NFL, units that were rock solid make unexpected regressions. No one expected that to happen to Mike Zimmer’s prized defense. With a couple of upgrades, such as the additions of DT Sheldon Richardson, to fill the void at three-technique which was there since Sharrif Floyd was injured, and CB Mike Hughes, drafted in the first round in 2018, the defense was expected to start where it left off. Plus, all former starters returned aside from Tom Johnson, who the Vikings acquired in Week 3, and Terence Newman who retired at the age of 40 and moved to the coaching staff.

In 2017, they finished first in yards per play, points allowed per game, and third down conversions. The Vikings managed to accomplish this feat while ranking 17th in sacks and 23rd in turnover difference. The previously vaunted unit has Pro Bowlers at every level--players that have proven themselves to the fans and the league.

Yes, Minnesota is going through some off the field issues with star defensive end and third year captain, Everson Griffen, but the depth the team has built over the years should be enough to overcome Griffen’s absence. Without Griffen it seems as if the Vikings can’t get any pressure on the defensive line.

In Week 3, Bills QB Josh Allen was very comfortable in the pocket, and he completed his passes with ease. The Vikings did have three sacks versus Buffalo, including one by third year defensive end Stephen Weatherly who is replacing Griffen on the edge, but they couldn’t get constant pressure. No pressure and the continuous blown coverages resulted in the Vikings being blown out. At home. This loss was reminiscent of the game versus the Indianapolis Colts back in 2016. The Colts were obviously inferior to the 2016 Vikings but managed to play on their overconfidence and shock them by eliminating them from playoff contention.]

In the 38-31 loss against the Los Angeles Rams, the Vikings had a single sack and absolutely no pressure. Granted the Vikings were traveling approximately 1900 miles and over 2 time zones to face the current best offense in the NFL who only had one 3 and out prior to the Vikings coming to town. It seemed as if their other star players like S Harrison Smith, LBs Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, and CB Xavier Rhodes had simply forgotten to play overnight. They allowed Rams QB Jared Goff to stomp all over them, as he threw for more than 400 yards, 5 touchdowns, and posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Let’s take a look at what happened on the touchdowns.

On the first touchdown, LB Anthony Barr simply had trouble keeping up with RB Todd Gurley. S Harrison Smith was looking at the left side of the field, where LB Eric Kendricks already was, to provide help. Rams HC Sean McVay was able to isolate Barr onto Gurley, creating a mismatch. This was similar to what Saints HC Sean Payton did with RB Alvin Kamara and LB Eric Kendricks in the 2017 Divisional Playoffs.

Jared Goff’s first explosive touchdown was a 70 yarder to WR Cooper Kupp. The play was verywell designed and it caught the Vikings off guard. The Rams managed to isolate LB Anthony Barr after 3rd year corner Mackensie Alexander let him cross the field and took himself out of the coverage. Kupp started by running a shallow crossing route which he immediately took upfield. Barr was the closest to him, and there was no Safety help. This was simply a misdirection for the Vikings defense.
Kupp had another touchdown in the second quarter. This was a 19 yarder right over the heads of CBs Mike Hughes and Trae Waynes. Coverage wasn’t too poor on this touchdown, but even speedy Waynes just couldn’t keep up with Kupp. McVay designed another beautiful play with a couple of short routes at the right side of the field. This let Goff have more time to throw, and Kupp snuck to the back of the end zone.

After the game, McVay said, “It’s almost like you’re throwing it away and Cooper did a great job saving them a bit of room, and Jared put it in about a six inch box that he could only fit it into.”

Another touchdown that went against Trae Waynes came in the third quarter. This time it was WR Brandin Cooks who struck for 47 yards. Cooks ran a vertical route, and Waynes could not keep up with him. Again, no Safety help. The Rams called this play when CB Xavier Rhodes, who spent the majority of the game on Cooks, was on the sidelines. This benching occurred after a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct for kicking a flag which was thrown to indicate a defensive hold on him.

The final Los Angeles touchdown came on another Minnesota misdirection. This 31 yard score went to WR Robert Woods. Goff motioned his receivers to the outside, clearing the backfield. The Vikings had to adjust quickly as the ball was snapped. The Rams got the mismatch they hoped for. The four receivers all ran verticals, and once again, Anthony Barr ended up having to cover a wide receiver downfield for more than 20 yards. For about the millionth time that night, he had no Safety help.

The Vikings have seven days until they play an NFC Championship rematch in Philadelphia. Hopefully the defense can get on the same page. HC Mike Zimmer was baffled at his coverage units. “We’ve never been, probably anywhere I’ve ever been, I’ve never been so poor in pass coverage. We’re going to have to look at everything we’re doing.”

With the mini bye week, we can be sure that Zimmer will put in extra effort in fixing the coverage. Onto Philly for the well anticipated revenge game! SKOL