The Minnesota Vikings are coming of a two-day weekend. From the start of training camp until their bye week, those kinds of breaks are rare and the Vikings are treating it like a short bye week.
While players had the weekend off, coaches took time for a short self-scout, looking for ways to get back on the winning track after a 36-17 loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As the Vikings return to practice Monday, one area seemed to be a prime part of focus for head coach Leslie Frazier.
"We're going to work extensively on blitz pickup because I'm sure that other people will see what happened (Thursday) night and say, ‘You know what? That's probably the blueprint – put a lot of pressure, some extra guys in the box and make the offensive line have to adjust and the quarterback throw on the run a little bit,'" Frazier said. "So we'll have to a better job of blitz pickup and when we have an opportunity to make some plays down the field with our receivers, we've got to find a way to connect."
Quarterback Christian Ponder felt the brunt of the blitzes Thursday night, when he completed 19 of 35 passes for 251 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but more than 100 of those passing yards came after the Bucs went into a soft defense to protect their lead. Ponder has thrown seven interceptions in the last four games after starting the season with four games without an interception. He hasn't had more touchdowns than interceptions in a game since a big Week 3 win against the San Francisco 49ers.
But the offense's struggles fall on more than just Ponder. The offensive line hasn't always made the proper adjustments, causing missed blitz pickups on occasions and allowing free-running blitzers in each of the last two games.
"It's not so much about confusing our offensive line. I don't think they've been confused. It's just at times, some people have called some good pressures at the right time, and they've had some success," Frazier said. "But I don't think it's anything about the confusion part of it. And when I look at the tape, I see situations where it's clear that it's designed to stop the run, not necessarily to pressure the quarterback."
Still, Ponder has been sacked 10 times in the last three games. In the previous three, he was sacked only three times.
The Arizona Cardinals blitzed often and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers followed that pattern, sending an extra rusher about one-third of the time Ponder dropped back to pass.
Running back Adrian Peterson said he "definitely" saw more blitzes coming in Thursday night's loss.
"We just have to do a better job under pressure, picking up blocks, making sure we're communicating, to make sure Christian has more time to deliver the ball," Peterson said. "So we all have to improve offensively."
Pass protection might be the primary focus as the Vikings return to practice Monday, but there are other areas of concern for Frazier.
"Things we've done well that we're not doing as well right now," Frazier said. "Earlier, when we were having success on a consistent basis, we weren't turning the ball over quite like we are now. We were doing a little bit better from a field-position standpoint than we are right now. And our run defense, we've got to get it back on track. There's some things that we have to get back on track that will help us be successful and play the way we're capable of playing."
The Vikings had one of the league's best run defenses in the first months of the season, but the last two games they have allowed 100-yard rushers and missed double-digit tackles against Arizona and Tampa Bay. In Frazier's estimation, the problems on defense stem from both mental and physical errors – players out of their assigned gaps and then missing tackles too often when they are in position.
"It's more a combination of the two. We've had some missed tackles the last two weeks, and we are not as forceful in our gaps as we need to be across the board," Frazier said. "It's correctible, and we've got to get it corrected in a hurry. Because we're going to play other teams that can run the ball, even better than the two teams that we just faced that ran the ball well against us."
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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