As the losses have piled up, Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has been more willing to admit that 2011 has been a rebuilding process – or at least he isn't denying it like he was in the offseason.
Frazier's defense – the one he coordinated for three-plus years before being promoted to head coach and the one he is still intermittently involved in coordinating – is now ranked 24th overall and 30th against the pass. As NFL quarterbacks head down the season's stretch with their record-setting pace, and after the Vikings took a 42-20 beating from one of the best around in Drew Brees, it's worth considering if the Tampa-2 defense is still viable in these pass-centric times.
After weeks of talking about missed assignments, Frazier said Brees' 412-yard passing day wasn't due to those errors on Sunday, but he believes the Vikings' defensive scheme can work in today's NFL.
"I'm confident it can be effective. But there are definitely some things that we've got to take a look at in the offseason to make sure that we're doing the right things based on the guys that are lining up and playing the Tampa-2 defense," Frazier said. "We'll have to take a very hard look at our schemes, like we do every offseason, and just see if we're doing the right things. We can't be opposed to tweaking things if that's what you need to do, especially after the season that we've had. So we've got to, top to bottom, make sure that we're doing the right things in trying to evaluate our team and our defense in particular and what we need to do personnel-wise to not experience what we're experiencing in 2011."
With all the injuries the Vikings have had in their secondary this year, a lack of talented and experienced personnel is a legitimate issue. They have only safety Jamarca Sanford left from the top five defensive backs entering the season. Their top three cornerbacks from the start of the season – Antoine Winfield (injured reserve), Cedric Griffin (demoted) and Chris Cook (legal issues) – didn't play a defensive snap on Sunday.
"I have great confidence in the scheme. We've been running it for the last five or six years. It's been working. What makes it not work now?" Sanford said. "You've just got to execute, get everybody on the same page at the same time."
Defensive coordinator Fred Pagac said he expects to be back in 2012, but Frazier will review his entire coaching staff after the season. Pagac, the only holdover among the coordinators from the Brad Childress era, could be on the hot seat. But Pagac, whose aggressive approach on an interim coordinator basis late last year helped bring down the Philadelphia Eagles, has been limited in his desire to play more man coverage behind his blitzing tendencies.
"Whenever you do anything schematically, you have to take a look at what can my personnel allow," Frazier said. "Can we be more of a man team vs. zone? Do we need to play more zone than man? Can we zone pressure? Can we man pressure? Can we play single high or more two high? You've got to look at your personnel when you're trying to determine what you might or might not be able to do in these final two games. It will be the same discussion in these final two games as we prepare a game plan for the Washington Redskins. What will our personnel allow us to do and try to put our personnel in the best position to be successful."
Although the pass defense is ranked 30th right now, it was ranked 10th just last year. But for those who don't put much stock in the yardage-based rankings in the NFL, the Vikings also have given up the most points this year – an average of 29 per game. Last year, they were 18th at 21.8 points per game.
In 2010, they were also without Cook and Griffin for stretches – Cook played in six games and Griffin in two before they both eventually landed on injured reserve with knee injuries – but Winfield made it through all 16 games. They also missed only three games between their two starting safeties in 2010.
Lately, the decimated secondary has become a target for opposing offenses.
"We have played against the Vikings every year for the past three years," Brees said after Sunday's game. "We know that they put a lot of strength in that front seven with their pass rush and linebackers. It's a lot of new faces in the secondary. They've had some injuries and bang-ups. We never take anything for granted. We know we have to execute and do the things we need to do. It's not so much necessarily about the scheme we're going up against; it's really all about execution. It's about identifying your matchups in zone coverage, and finding lanes to throw."
So has the scheme or the personnel been more of an issue?
"I think you've got to look at both," Frazier said. "You've got to look at what we're doing schematically and how people are attacking us, along with our personnel on defense. It has to be a combination of the both and look at it globally and try to make a good decision going forward.
"This defense has been successful in the past. We're having a down year for sure this season, but it's been successful and there are still are some teams that are having success with it. We've just got to go back and look at what we're doing and how we're doing it and see if we can do it a whole lot better than we've done it in 2011. But I know it can work."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings defense: Scheme or personnel issues?
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