A day after allowing 556 total yards to the Los Angeles Rams in a 38-31 loss, the Minnesota Vikings were still left questioning what has happened to their once-stout defense.
The defensive breakdowns that allowed Jared Goff to throw for 565 yards and five touchdowns, and had three receivers each go over 100 yards receiving, even had coach Mike Zimmer believing he’s part of the problem.
“Quite honestly, it wasn’t nickels and linebackers,” Zimmer said of the issues against Los Angeles, where the Rams managed to get receivers matched up on linebackers time after time. “It was guys getting out of position. It was some misdirection plays, similar to what we’ve gotten before. Some of it was corners, some of it was safeties, some of it was linebackers, some of it was nickels, some of it was me.”
Zimmer has been the architect of Minnesota’s defense, a unit that led the NFL in fewest points and yards allowed last season. But the Vikings have allowed three straight opponents to score at least 27 points. Green Bay and Los Angeles each had at least 446 yards against Minnesota.
The 556 yards allowed by the Vikings were the fourth-most in team history and the most ever given up by a Zimmer-led defense since he first became an offensive coordinator with Dallas in 2000.
Zimmer pinning blame on himself isn’t totally unexpected, but what did the longtime coach mean by some of the issues were on him?
“I might be over-coaching them some,” Zimmer said. “I am probably over-coaching them, that’s it.”
Minnesota returned home with plenty to ponder at 1-2-1 this season with back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles. The Vikings have an extended break to relax, get healthy and to take time looking at the defense, which has allowed 27.5 points and 381.5 yards per game.
“I can’t point to it as a player, but we have to bring more fight than that,” safety Harrison Smith said after Thurday’s game. “We’ve got to take care of our jobs. There’s no Superman, there’s none of that. Everybody’s got to handle their job and we have to go out there and get back to running around and having fun. Knowing we’re going to make plays. That’s what we’ve got to get to.”
Zimmer said he hadn’t decided how he’d spend his long weekend. His players will get a break. Zimmer might have a hard time handling time off right now, but he still has faith in his team.
“This team has a chance to be really, really good,” Zimmer said. “One week it is the offense, one week it is the defense, one week it’s special teams. If we put it all together, we can beat any team there is.”
The offense with new quarterback Kirk Cousins and coordinator John DeFilippo has come together quickly, with a passing game setting team records. In fact, Zimmer knew it would take time for all of the pieces to come together after adding Cousins and DeFilippo, having Dalvin Cook return from knee surgery and a defense that added tackle Sheldon Richardson and rookie first-round cornerback Mike Hughes.
“I kind of figured it was probably going to take a little bit of time with some of the new pieces,” Zimmer said. “I figured that was going to be the case. Everybody forgets we were 2-2 last year at this time. We will just keep fighting and playing. Just because everybody expected us to be 4-0 at this point or whatever it is, doesn’t mean that’s realistic. We are just going to keep fighting and try to sure up things and continue to get better and go from there.”
Zimmer said Thursday on a conference call with reporters that he doesn’t expect star defensive end Everson Griffen to rejoin the team in the next two weeks. Griffen has been receiving help for a mental-health condition.
One lingering question has been George Iloka’s limited involvement on defense. Minnesota signed the safety who worked with Zimmer in Cincinnati when he was surprisingly cut in preseason by the Bengals. But Smith and Andrew Sendejo have remained the starting safeties.
Smith and Sendejo played every snap on Thursday against the Rams. When the Vikings used a third safety in a big nickel package, Jayron Kearse was the extra player. Iloka played one defensive snap on Thursday.
“When George gets an opportunity, he will get an opportunity,” Zimmer said. “I have complete confidence in him. Typically, there are two safeties on the field. I got some I like and he is just going to have to wait his turn. He will get an opportunity at some point I am sure.”
No matter who is on the field, Minnesota has 11 days to work on the defense with a game upcoming against the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s high,” Smith said of the frustration. “This bunch of guys, this coaching staff; we’re not used to losing. We got to get it into gear. That’s all there is to it. Nobody is going to fix it but us.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings