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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Vikings’ once dominant defense is left searching for answers

By Judd Zulgad

Rams quarterback Jared Goff put on a brilliant display Thursday night, throwing five touchdown passes and posting a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Rams coach Sean McVay again proved that being only 32 years old doesn’t preclude one from being an offensive genius. The Vikings’ defense was missing standout defensive end Everson Griffen and cornerback Trae Waynes was playing with an ankle injury that chased him from the game in the first half.

All of these things were contributing factors in the Vikings’ 38-31 loss to the Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But no matter how good the Rams’ quarterback and chief play-caller were, or who the Vikings were missing, there is one thing coach Mike Zimmer’s team couldn’t ignore as they prepared to return to the Twin Cities.

Something has gone very wrong with a defense that last season was one of the best in the NFL.

I have been concerned all year long, we have not played well defensively,” Zimmer said.

The Rams are high-flying unit that has scored 140 points in starting 4-0 for the first time since 2001, and Goff made the Vikings look silly as he completed 26 of 33 passes for 465 yards. It might have been one thing if the Vikings’ struggles were isolated to this one game, but that hasn’t been the case.

Starting with the second half of the Vikings’ playoff victory over New Orleans at U.S. Bank Stadium last season, Minnesota has surrendered 172 points and 2,191 yards in five full games and one half. That means they are giving up 31.3 points and 398.4 yards per game in that time. This is the same team that finished first in total defense (275.9 yards per game) and scoring defense (15.8 points per game) last season.

This is certainly not what you would expect from a team coached by Zimmer, who long has been considered one of the top defensive minds in the NFL.

After the Vikings were blown out 38-7 in the NFC title game last season, the expectation was that Zimmer would figure out the weaknesses Eagles coach Doug Pederson had discovered and respond this season so the same mistakes weren’t made.

That hasn’t been the case.

The Vikings gave up 16 points and 327 yards to San Francisco in winning their opener, surrendered 29 points and 351 yard in a tie at Green Bay and allowed 27 points and 292 yards in a stunning home loss to the Buffalo Bills before nearly getting run off the field in Los Angeles.

Some of the Vikings’ problems are obvious but that doesn’t mean they are correctable. The nickel corner position, one of the toughest on defense because of the complex assignments involved in playing that spot, was handled brilliantly for much of last season by veteran Terence Newman. But Newman retired and took over as an assistant on the Vikings’ staff just before this season began and Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes often have looked lost in trying to fill that role.

Linebacker Eric Kendricks, who received a five-year, $50 million contract extension that includes $25 million guaranteed in April, has not looked like the same player so far this season. Fellow linebacker, Anthony Barr, who is making $12.3 million this season in the final year of his rookie deal, was hoping to get a rich extension but he certainly isn’t playing like a guy who deserves it.

Barr has never been strong in pass coverage and on Thursday the Rams went at him numerous times and had great success. This included an 8-yard Goff to Todd Gurley first-quarter touchdown pass that opened the scoring for Los Angeles and tied the score at 7. There had been an expectation that Barr might be used more in a pass rushing role this season but so far that hasn’t been the case.

The Vikings won’t play again until a week from Sunday when they will face the Eagles in a return trip to Philadelphia. It would appear unlikely that Griffen would be back for that game as he deals with off-the-field issues, but the hope has to be that Waynes’ injured ankle is fully healed by then.

The Vikings also need cornerback Xavier Rhodes to resume playing at a Pro Bowl level and stop doing things like kicking a penalty flag thrown against him. That cost the Vikings 15 yards on Thursday and was followed by Goff’s 47-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks in the second quarter.

But that isn’t going to fix the Vikings’ woes at nickel corner or stop the struggles of the linebackers that have resulted in numerous big plays for running backs and tight ends this season. This included Gurley’s 56-yard catch and run in the third quarter that led to a Rams field goal.

All of this has left the normally Zimmer searching for answers.

“At this point I don’t know, we’ve never been, probably anywhere I’ve ever been, have we been this poor in pass coverage,” he said. “We’re going to have to look at everything we’re doing and get back to doing things correctly.”

If the Vikings aren’t successful, a season that began with big expectations will end in massive disappointment.

The post Zulgad: Vikings’ once dominant defense is left searching for answers appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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