Week 11 a Temporary Defensive Regression
When Minnesota Vikings long-timers like Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, Trae
Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Stephen Weatherly, and Andrew Sendejo left the team several
months ago, the defense was destined to look markedly different. Mike Zimmer’s calling card is
that of defense and has been so for decades.
It was improbable that the revised and retooled bunch of men on the defensive side of the ball
would struggle. But with injuries to three staples – Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and Michael
Pierce – there simply was enough depth to replace all 10 of the aforementioned names. “Next
man up” only works when the “next man” is actually pretty good. The next men up for the
Vikings are either wet behind the ears or career backup-caliber players.
Because of those factoids, the Vikings defense ranks 27th in points allowed per game and 22nd
in yards allowed per game – wretched marks as adjudicated by Zimmer’s stern standards. The
heft of the damage was perpetrated in Weeks 1-6 while glimmers of defensive competence
were evident following the Week 7 bye week. The Vikings defeated three divisional opponents –
all with some degree of impressive defense.
Then, a step backward occurred in Week 11. The Andy Dalton-led Cowboys made forcible
dents in the Vikings armor. Kirk Cousins dimed his best game of 2020, and Dalvin Cook was
prolific, too. Ordinarily, when Cook crosses the 100-yard rushing plateau, the Vikings win. But
not this time. The defense was beset by a temporary regression.
Pass Rush Next to Zilch
Cowboys reservist signal-caller Andy Dalton dropped back to throw the football 34 times in
Week 11 against Minnesota. Four times, he was pressured. 88% of the time, he felt no
pressure. Professional quarterbacks without induced expediency will pick apart opposing
secondaries – nearly every time.
On 30 occasions, Andy Dalton essentially encountered playground football. When you were an
adolescent, you could not, in good faith, go drill your fifth-grade buddy who was stepping back
to throw the ball. It would have ended your recess right quick.
That was Dalton on Sunday – at recess.
Mike Zimmer chose not to blitz as he did on Monday Night Football one week ago. Dallas’
wideouts are probably too deadly to take on the risk – unlike the Bears wide receivers. The lack
of organic pressure or blitz-infused heat was obvious. It was detrimental to the Vikings defense.
Dalton has his best game of 2020 even with a recent recovery from a morbid concussion. He
was infected with the coronavirus, too.
He needed to be infected with QB Hurries by the Vikings front-four. No cigar.
Two Huge Defensive Plays Bungled
The Vikings-Cowboys contest was trending in the Vikings direction until RB2 Tony Pollard broke
loose for a 42-yard touchdown. Minnesota’s momentum was asphyxiated on that play as two
defenders missed the opportunity to tackle or, at the very least, slow down the 23-year-old
Cowboys tailback. Pollard scored easily and a second-half comeback for Minnesota became
After that, both teams traded the lead with astute offensive play. A Dalton pass to the other
Dalton (Schultz) was secured for the game-winning touchdown at the game’s climax. But before
that, Zimmer’s defense almost had Dallas dead to rights. A 4th and 6 situation was presented to
Minnesota defensively, but a throw from Dalton to Amari Cooper extended the drive. It was
eerily similar to a defensive 4th and 10 that the Vikings frittered away versus the Seahawks at
Lumen Field. That time the culprit was Cameron Dantzler. This time in Week 11, it was Jeff
Gladney who was bullied by a veteran quarterback.
Two different rookies, one likeminded result.
Maturity Means Up and Downs
Zimmer’s 2020 defense has been instructed to grow up fast. Maturity-on-the-fly is not a breezy
deal. Growing pains, mistakes, embarrassments, high points, triumphs, and everything in
between are symbiotic of a young defense. That’s what this is.
When the Vikings toppled the Packers and then downed the next two NFC North enemies, the
defense was surrendering about 18 points per game in those three matchups. Perhaps the
Packers-Lions-Bears offensive combination is a flimsy barometer. Maybe the Zimmer-led
defense was just bad against Dallas for a single game. These are the questions that hang over
an ultra-young and piecemealed defense.
The term “development” pertaining to young football players can be pejorative or laudatory. It
was more pejorative than laudatory this week, and that’s why the Vikings lost. A temporary
regression demarcated the Vikings offense’s best efforts.
On maturing with the Vikings, the next assignment to gauge the rate of development involves a
familiar face – Teddy Bridgewater. You once clamored for his maturity-in-a-hurry, much like
you’re doing now for Gladney and Dantzler.