Vikings’ defense can’t help offense in loss to Rams

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) in the fourth quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Rams defeated the Vikings 38-31.Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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By signing Kirk Cousins, the Minnesota Vikings believed they finally had the quarterback to complement their league-leading defense from 2017 and take them to the Super Bowl.

Cousins has surpassed expectations while combining with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. The defense is now the side costing Minnesota wins.

The Vikings allowed 556 total yards — the fourth-most in team history — in a 38-31 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night. It’s the most yards a Mike Zimmer-led defense has allowed since Zimmer first became an NFL coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys in 2000.

“I’ve been concerned all year long,” Zimmer said of trailing early. “We have not played well defensively.”

Kirk Cousins was 36 of 50 for 422 yards passing and three touchdowns and had Minnesota in position to tie the game, reminiscent of two weeks ago in Green Bay, but was stripped of the ball as he went back for a pass with 1:29 remaining.

Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff completed 78.8 percent of his 33 passes for 465 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating. Three Rams receivers — Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks — all surpassed 100 receiving yards.

“Probably anywhere I’ve ever been, I’ve never been this poor in pass coverage,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to have to look at everything we’re doing and get back doing things correctly.”

The cracks that started to show in the playoffs last season for the Vikings’ defense — which led the league with the fewest points and yards allowed in 2017 — have become full-fledged holes.

Los Angeles had eight plays of at least 20 yards, all passes. The Rams had three plays of at least 47 yards, two ending in touchdowns. It was the most yards surrendered by Minnesota since the New Orleans Saints put up 573 yards in 2011.

“They have a good scheme,” Zimmer said. “I’m not going to take anything away from their scheme. But it’s the same scheme we played last year that had seven points, so we made some mistakes. We left a bunch of guys open. And they have a good scheme.”

In one instance, Kupp came across the field and drew linebacker Anthony Barr in coverage. Goff hit Kupp in stride for a 70-yard touchdown.

“We didn’t help him with the backside,” Zimmer said of the defense on the play.

Another touchdown came with Minnesota’s best cover cornerback Xavier Rhodes off the field. Rhodes was called for defensive holding and then kicked the penalty flag, drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty and causing Zimmer to pull Rhodes off the field.

“Well, he kicked the flag,” Zimmer said. “That’s the kind of things we’ve been doing, having penalties on defense and giving up big plays. It reared its ugly head again tonight.”

Cornerback Trae Waynes started the game but left with a concussion and didn’t return. Rhodes appeared to be dealing with cramping and left for several plays before returning. At the end, Zimmer had safety Jayron Kearse playing the nickel position.

The Vikings are playing without star defensive end Everson Griffen, who is away from the team while he undergoes evaluation for his mental health. Reserve defensive tackle Tom Johnson missed the game with an ankle injury.

The defense, which surrendered 15.8 points per game in the regular season last year, has now allowed at least 27 points in three of four games this season.

“I still have faith in this football team that we can come back and get to where we need to, but we’ve only got two losses,” Zimmer said. “So, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about how we’ve played.”