Visanthe Shiancoe is tired of talking about the same mistakes made after each loss. Coaches and coordinators are starting to sound like broken records when talking about "good football players" yet having no real public explanations for why those same players are missing tackles, getting beat in coverage or not getting to blocks they are expected to make.
Those sore areas may become even more exposed on defense after the rash of injuries continued in the secondary. After placing Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson on injured reserve Tuesday, the Vikings have now lost two of their top three safeties and at least two of their top three cornerbacks.
But on offense, where receiver Michael Jenkins' knee injury was the first major injury, it might be time to start wondering whether players are being asked to do the impossible.
Two plays from Sunday's game stick out in that regard. Both resulted in key losses when players couldn't get to their assignments.
"I think you have to have a foundation and we're trying to build a foundation for our players that they can feel good about going forward and we've got to continue to evaluate our schemes," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said when asked if problems stemmed from the system itself or the players' lack of an offseason to familiarize themselves with the new system. "You do it every offseason, and this offseason we'll have more of an idea of what our players are capable of doing and not doing."
The first play in question came in the second quarter of Sunday's 24-14 loss, when the Vikings trailed 7-0 and were trying to mount their first sustained drive on their third offensive series. Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder dropped to pass and Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon came on a blitz. Running back Toby Gerhart and tight end Jim Kleinsasser got tangled up and both ended up missing the block on Weatherspoon, who dropped Ponder for a 9-yard loss.
It may have been a lack of execution on the players' part, but the scheme might have called for Kleinsasser to do something he wasn't capable of performing.
"We were in a different alignment where Jim was a little wider than normal, so he was at a little bit of a disadvantage. He blocks the (strongside linebacker), I block the (middle linebacker) – standard protection that we run all year long, easy," Gerhart said. "His guy just knifed hard. Where his alignment was, he couldn't get there so I tried to adjust to take him and he just clipped me.
"He was coming down to get his and I saw he was not going to get there and so I tried to stop and get him and then he just clipped me and no one got anybody. He was extra wide because we were trying to cheat his alignment out to look more like a run play when we were passing and they just caught us with a nice blitz that kind of screwed everything up."
The second play also involved Gerhart … and Weatherspoon. And it became one of the most scrutinized plays of the game.
Trailing by 10 points and facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 4:22 to play, Frazier made the decision to go for the touchdown instead of taking the field goal and making it a one-score game. He later called that decision a "bad mistake."
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who made the decision to go with a handoff to Gerhart, also said he regretted the play selection. He would have rather run a rollout with the athletic Ponder that would have allowed for a run-pass option. Still, Gerhart's dive might have worked if the "execution" that coaches continue to call out had been delivered. The question for consideration here is whether the execution was even possible.
Once again, what may have seemed like it should work in the lab didn't work on the field.
On the ill-fated fourth-and-goal handoff to Gerhart, the Falcons made an adjustment just before the snap of the ball that doomed the play. When the defensive end shifted down closer to the ball, Shiancoe went to block down on him while right guard Joe Berger, who was pulling to his left, was asked to get beyond where Shiancoe was lined up outside the left tackle and seal the edge. That's where Weatherspoon was blitzing from on that play.
"When a guy shoots down, technically they're supposed to make a hard call, which tells (Berger) he's got to go to the edge. I don't know if that was communicated (or if) it was loud (and) he didn't hear it," Gerhart said. "It happened instantaneously, where the guy shifts down and you have to shift on the fly and he was so fast up-field it was a lost cause. Great call. There was nothing we could do at all."
Berger didn't even appear to look to the outside, and it's debatable whether he would have been able to get even a chip on Weatherspoon, who dropped Gerhart for a 2-yard loss. But Frazier declined to get into specifics on the play when asked about it Monday, apparently not wanting to call out any specific players.
"It's a one-back power play where we're going to try and kick out that guy at the end of the line of scrimmage and we didn't execute our responsibility as well as we needed to. We've had positive yards on that play in the past and we didn't get it done in that instance," Frazier said.
Despite Musgrave's post-game mea culpa on the play selection, Frazier wasn't as concerned with the call as he was with the execution of it, even when told that some Falcons players indicated they knew what was coming.
"I don't have a problem with the play, I have a problem with the execution of the play. If we block it the way it's supposed to be blocked, it's a touchdown," Frazier said. "Whether they knew it or not, we didn't block the play the way it needed to be blocked. There are a lot of plays that we run in our offense that people are going to know that Adrian Peterson is going to get the football in this situation. They've still got to stop the play. That's not unusual. They've still got to stop the play."
Unfortunately for the Vikings, it was Weatherspoon who was the difference-maker on two key plays. Whether that was execution or schematic issues on the Vikings' part is left open for debate.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key plays: Execution of scheme failures?
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