Youth hasn't been serving the Vikings well in the secondary when it counts most, but the players and coaches insist that a young secondary isn't restricting the play-calling of defensive coordinator Alan Williams – a rookie himself in that role.
The Vikings are starting rookie safety Harrison Smith, second-year safety Mistral Raymond (who had five starts last year), CB Chris Cook (who had eight starts entering the season) and the only real veteran of the group, CB Antoine Winfield (who had 158 NFL starts entering the season).
To date, the statistics look reasonable – the Vikings are 10th in pass defense after the second week – but last week in Indianapolis, the defense gave up big scoring drives at the end of the first half and at the end of regulation.
"There are probably some things we'd like to do a little bit better and we have to get that done as we go forward," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "You hate to come up on this short end when you don't come through like we did in this past ballgame, but we have to learn from it and we have to be better at it because we're going to find ourselves in other situations like that. That's the way a lot of our games are. We have to learn from it and be better."
But, to a man, the players and coaches said the play-calling hasn't been restricted because of the youth in the secondary.
"Coaches have been calling everything – playing a lot of man, a lot of quarters, mixing in two," Winfield, the greybeard of the group, said. "I don't think he's holding back."
The least experienced player of the group, Harrison Smith, agreed.
"I think if they're putting us out there, they expect us to do whatever they want to play," said the rookie, who is tied with Winfield for the lead in the secondary with 16 tackles. "Whatever they call is what we're going to play."
Whatever the case, the Vikings were bitten by scoring drives late in each of the halves against the Colts.
After the Vikings offense failed with a three-and-out inside two minutes in the first half, the Colts got the ball with 1:11 left and completed two passes to start the drive and move across midfield. But after spending seven plays getting into field goal position, the Colts were left without a timeout and still connected on a 30-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field, behind LB Erin Henderson and between safeties Smith and Raymond to take a 17-6 lead.
"The big plays, that was my biggest fear going into the game, that we would play decent football, we would play good football, and they would sneak in a couple big plays on us and we would be in a dogfight," Henderson said. "We would keep our fingers crossed and see how it played out. We gave up a couple big ones, myself included. It's one of those things where it is what it is, you learn from it and you gain the experience and try to move forward from it."
While that drive took only 1:04 for the Colts to go 64 yards for a touchdown, it was the drive at the end of regulation that put the dagger in the Vikings' back. The Vikings had just tied the game, 20-20, and the Colts took over on their own 20-yard line.
Two 20-yard passes later, to Donnie Avery and Wayne, and the Colts were across midfield in 13 seconds. One pass later, to Avery again, and they were in field goal range, where Adam Vinatieri nailed a 53-yard field for the 23-20 win.
Winfield said every situation is different, and several players admitted that Andrew Luck was more athletic escaping pressure than they figured him to be. Still, per usual, the onus on stopping his passes falls with the secondary.
"I don't want to put it on the youth of our secondary as much as our just being able to continue to play together as a group on defense and growing together," Frazier said. "You do have to be mindful of the experience that you have in the secondary, particularly when we get into situations where people have multiple wideouts and then you have more young guys on the field, but I don't know if they're putting handcuffs on what we want to do. We just know that we do have some youth in the secondary."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Is youth in secondary limiting play-calling?
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