Vikings Defense Looking for Answers

Asher Allen, Minnesota secondary left much to be desired with their play in New England

I’ve come to the conclusion that teams with the proper personnel can easily follow a specific formula to beat the Vikings defense.

Step One:  Spread It Out

Every time a team puts enough receivers on the field at once the Vikings defense is forced to take a very good defender off the field in exchange for a below average one.  More specifically, when the Vikings go into their nickel defense, the Vikings take above average linebacker Ben Leber off the field and have to put their faith in unproven defensive backs like Chris Cook, Asher Allen, or Lito Sheppard.

If I were an opposing coach, I would be constantly calling for spreading the offense out, as I would be eliminating a defensive playmaker like Leber on a regular basis.  Obviously, this is easier for teams with solid receiver depth (i.e. Patriots, Packers, Cowboys) to take advantage of.

Step Two:  Quick Throws

Much has been made of the Vikings lack of a pass rush this season, and I’m not saying those criticisms are not warranted, but teams fear the Vikings front four so much that they go to great lengths to avoid a run in with them.  This year, quarterbacks are almost always getting the ball out quickly, on a two or three step drop.

This is a risk versus reward scenario.  If your quarterback holds onto the ball and tries to go deep, then there is the risk that Jared Allen or another defensive lineman will cause turmoil.  However, by making sure the quarterback is throwing quickly, you can risk very little in allowing your left tackle to match up one-on-one with Jared Allen.  Even a pro bowler like Allen can’t win a one-on-one matchup if the quarterback is getting rid of it quickly.  While the quick throws offer less reward, there is certainly less risk associated.

This approach has been so successful against the Vikings this year, that we have seen the defense almost completely give up on the pass rush and simply stand at the line of scrimmage, jumping into the air trying to bat down passes.

Step Three:  Pick On The Weak Links

By the time we get to this point, opposing offenses have taken a good player out of the game (Leber) and managed to negate the dangerous pass rush of the front four.  Now, if you have the playmakers catching passes and a competent passer, it is time to exploit the Vikings weakest point… the secondary.

Chris Cook, Asher Allen, and Lito Sheppard have all shown to be very suspect in coverage at points in this season.  Madieu Williams and Husain Abdullah have both shown tendencies to take bad angles and/or miss tackles.  Other than Winfield, the Vikings secondary is playing scared which translates to playing soft with big cushions for the receivers.

These receivers can catch and run, making plays against defenders that show an inability to stop them.  This strategy keeps the ball moving and sets up manageable third downs, which goes even further to make the Vikings pass rush obsolete.

It also wears down a defense and doesn’t allow them to get into a rhythm.

Step Four:  Vary It Up

If an opposing offense can employ the previous three steps with mild success, then by the time you get to the third or fourth quarter they are facing a gassed and demoralized defense.  Now you can vary it up a bit.

Now the Vikings defense is searching for answers, trying to either blitz linebackers or drop them further into coverage.  We have seen this result in teams (Saints, Jets, Patriots) being able to run against a Vikings defense that is no longer playing the game on their terms.

We even see teams more likely to take shots down the field late in the game to their big play receivers (Brandon Tate, Dez Bryant) for possible scores.  The Vikings are talented enough to disrupt the big play efforts, but using linebackers to blitz or cover deep leaves the escape valve uncovered (Danny Woodhead, James Jones) leaving them available for catch and runs in the open field against questionable tacklers in the Vikings secondary.

Conclusion

This was all just a long way of saying that teams have found a way to exploit the Vikings defense, and if they have the talent to do it, it is going to work if the Vikings don’t find a way to counter.

I think our base defense is good enough to beat teams that remain on our schedule that might lack leadership at the quarterback position, depth at the receiver position, or chemistry and a veteran presence.  For example, I think this defense will dominate teams like Arizona, Chicago, Washington, Buffalo, and Detroit which will put our offense in the position to win games.

But six wins out of nine remaining games isn’t enough to make the playoffs.  That is why the Vikings need to make adjustments if they plan on holding offenses like the Packers, Giants, and the Eagles in check.

It is possible that the Vikings simply don’t have the talent in the secondary to keep up with the truly good offenses.  However, I sincerely believe that playing to their players’ strengths will go a long ways towards having a shot.

All through training camp, we heard Vikings coaches brag about the physicality of their young cornerbacks, particularly Asher Allen and Chris Cook.  After all, second year no-name cornerback Kyle Arrington was able to shut down Randy Moss, albeit with constant safety help, all day on Sunday by jamming him off the line and playing him very aggressive and physical.

Against these better receivers, the Vikings have to task their youngsters in the secondary with playing more aggressive and taking more risks.  I know this sets them up to be more susceptible to the big play, but if I know the opponent is capable of simply imposing their will as I outlined earlier, then I find the occasional big play preferable.  Especially if it puts my team in a position where they are more likely to generate the big defensive plays of their own.

Jamming these receivers will cause quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer, and I have a feeling this pass rush will find much greater success if the quarterback has the ball in their hand for longer than three seconds.

It is time for these youngsters in the secondary to strap on their big-boy pants and do their job, otherwise this team is going nowhere even if they somehow manage to make the playoffs.


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