For months, Vikings players have been saying that certain successes against their defense are the result of the scheme. Every defense has a weakness, they say. But this year the Vikings pass defense is getting exposed despite having the league's sack leader in Jared Allen, who has 13.5 through nine games.
They have the league's 30th-ranked pass defense and haven't held an opponent under 200 yards passing all season.
"It is what it is. We kind of do what we do. That's what we've built our whole system on," safety Tyrell Johnson said when asked about the team's Tampa-2 zone approach. "That's the mentality that Coach (Leslie) Frazier has put in us. We're going to do what we do, and how teams attack us or come after us, we just tell them to bring it on. We're going to do what we do and we're going to do it effectively."
Part of the problem stems from a lack of healthy and available quality cornerbacks. The Vikings entered the season feeling better about the situation with Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook as their top three cornerbacks. But Griffin's knees still appear to be an issue (he declined yet another interview request Thursday), Winfield missed four games with a neck injury and a broken clavicle Monday night ended his season, and Cook was arrested for felony domestic assault on Oct. 22, hasn't played since and isn't expected to play the rest of the season.
That has limited how much defensive coordinator Fred Pagac has been able to implement his aggressive style. If he had healthier cornerbacks, he would be more inclined to mix up the coverages and implement more man.
"Sure you would. That's your change-up defense. If you're a Tampa-2 scheme, you've got change-ups, whether you're a zone-blitz scheme or man-blitz team," Pagac said. "We pressured a couple times in the second half and we got (Packers QB Aaron Rodgers). Those were off of zone blitzes. You can't live on them. A good quarterback can read them and he'll get the ball off on it."
In addition to the injuries, the Vikings have had the unenviable task of playing against Rodgers two out of the last three games, which means facing arguably the hottest quarterback in the history of the league while Minnesota's secondary situation is at a low point.
"We could always be better in our drops, in our fits, in our gaps, but honestly Aaron, he's just a great player. There's a weakness in every defense and he's just one of those players that knows how to find them. There's no perfect defense. There's always a hole or a gap or something open. Aaron is the best at finding that one thing, that one gap," Johnson said.
"We've just got to go out there and do our job and just continue to get better each game. We try to play aggressive and just do the best at the call that's at hand."
Despite all the issues, Frazier stands by his belief that the team's Tampa-2 philosophy can work. He's seen them be effective in the past and believes, with the right personnel, they can return to respectability.
"A lot of what you do is dictated by your personnel. If we have the right personnel, we've seen this defense can be effective. We've just got to keep working to make sure we have the right personnel at the right spots," he said.
"We've got some guys in position that will be able to help us and are helping us, but when you lose certain guys to injuries you want to make sure there's not a huge gap between a starter and a guy who is still into his role. As you continue to get the roster the way you want it, then you don't have such dropoff at certain positions."
Pagac said it is a "solid defense" and a "good defense" when everybody performs their assignment. But with inexperience and a dropoff in talent as the Vikings get deeper into the depth chart, changes have been forced upon them. Injuries have caused adjustment to be made, as well.
Johnson said he wouldn't necessarily classify the defense as having a lack of aggression. With healthier personnel last year, Pagac unleashed an aggression against the Philadelphia Eagles that hadn't been seen from a Minnesota defense in some time.
Johnson believes the Vikings have become a bit more aggressive in the last few games, but said the effectiveness of the defense still comes down to players being where their assignment dictates.
Meanwhile, the coaches may have to wait for better health among the players before there is resurgence in the effectiveness.
"We've had success at it and we have to get back to where we're having success at it," Pagac said.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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