Vikings Secondary Is Playing Scared

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Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) and defensive back Parry Nickerson (39) and cornerback Cameron Dantzler (27) and safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The Philadelphia Eagles absolutely massacred the Vikings’ defense on Monday night. During the first half of the game, the Eagles could do whatever they wanted. They could run it or throw it downfield. It was almost as if the Vikings’ secondary was playing scared.

We knew when the Vikings hired Ed Donatell that they would live in a 2 high-safety look most of the time. This defense can be excellent, providing two things.

  1. You get a push in the pass rush with 4 or 5 guys
  2. Your cornerbacks can hold up in coverage and prevent the deep ball

Well, on Monday, neither of those things happened. In fact, it was almost as if the secondary were so afraid of being beaten deep that they just ran down the field and avoided contesting any catch. I am being a bit hyperbolic here. Although, while watching that first half, Vikings fans everywhere were wondering if we would contest a single throw.

The answer was no.

Then the pass rush was seemingly nowhere to be found. This is not necessarily a huge surprise. The Eagles’ offensive line ranks 4th in the NFL with a 70% pass rush win rate.

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However, sometimes when you know you are going against a good offensive line, you scheme up exotic pressures. Although, it didn’t appear that we had many of those prepared to take on this team. Instead, we hoped we could win with Hunter and Smith, but neither had a good night.

Although the pass rush and defense were poor, you would think this came at the trade-off of stopping the run? Not so fast. Once again, the Vikings failed to do this. They allowed 163 rushing yards.

The inability to defend the pass, rush the passer, or stop the run is a recipe for disaster. And that is exactly what we saw on Monday night. However, it is fixable.

How the Vikings can Fix the Defense

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First and foremost, Donatell’s 2-high defense is designed to stop the passing game. The trade-off here is that teams can run it for 6 yards per carry. This is something that we must be willing to accept.

Next, if I were in the coaching room, I would tell my cornerbacks to play tighter. They will need to zone match on the offensive players. If they get beat deep on a route, so be it. I want to see them get up in the face of a receiver and contest the throw. Otherwise, you end up with results much like those of Monday, where the opponent easily picks up 10-15 yard chunk plays.

After that, I would want to mix in different coverages. Monday was so vanilla. They sat in 2-high and played a soft zone. They have played the most 2-high, cover 2 in the league. This is the most basic defense that every offense can beat.

Giving a pre-snap look of 2-high is fine, but then post-snap transition into a 1-man robber look. Doing so allows Harrison Smith to do what he does best — disguise his coverages.

Perhaps Donatell will figure this out yet. However, it seems unlikely. The cornerbacks on the roster are simply not reliable enough to play man-to-man the way they need to. Think about all the man coverage the Eagles deployed on Monday night. They were able to do that because Slay and Bradberry are good cornerbacks.

This just might be the identity of the Vikings’ defense until they can draft more cornerbacks to fit this scheme. Regardless of that, they need to stop playing so scared.


Mitch Massman is a life-long Vikings fan. His first heartbreak was the 1998 NFC championship game. His full-time job is as an economic development professional in rural Minnesota. He fantasizes about the Vikings winning a Super Bowl one day, but until then he will write about the Vikings. Follow him on Twitter @skol_vikings3