Once upon time, the Vikings had a solid, sound run defense. Actually, it was less than a month ago when they were holding the likes of Tennessee's Chris Johnson to 24 yards on 15 carries.
Those days seem further in the past after Minnesota has surrendered 100-yard rushing performances in each of the last three games. Because of the recent struggles, Vikings defenders returned to work Monday with a renewed effort to get the error of their ways corrected.
One theme prevailed: Players are not in their allotted slots.
"We were not gap sound in our last ballgame. We missed some tackles, as well," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Monday. "You're not going to play good run defense if guys aren't where they're supposed to be, especially if you're trying to get into eight-man fronts. And we had some situations, even in eight-man fronts, we weren't where we needed to be. One of the things (Monday) that we did was we did a review on some of our run fits, whether it was seven-man fronts or eight-man fronts, just to make sure we all understand where we have to be and where we have to fit up runs. We have to improve in that area."
Despite missed tackles also being a point of contention the last three weeks on a team that previously was being praised for solid tackling skills, Frazier's refrain of breakdowns in gap integrity was echoed time and again among defenders in the locker room Monday.
"We've just got to do our job. If you're supposed to be in the A gap, you've got to be in the A gap," middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. "Everybody doing their job, not trying to do your job and someone else's job – just being fundamentally sound."
Brinkley's assessment was essentially a recall of the Vikings' problems in 2011, but they appeared to have that cleaned up to start this season. The Vikings went five games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars had 77 yards rushing in the season opener, followed by Donald Brown (Colts) with 45, Frank Gore (49ers) with 63, Mikel Leshoure (Lions) with 26, and Chris Johnson (Titans) with 24 before the carnage started. In the last three weeks, QB Robert Griffin III (Redskins) had 138 yards rushing and two touchdowns, LaRod Stephens-Howling (Cardinals) had 104 yards and a touchdown, and Doug Martin (Buccaneers) had 135 yards and a touchdown.
"Simple answer to that is we're not in our gaps. If you really want to get down to it, guys aren't in their gaps and then we're missing tackles," defensive end Brian Robison said. "That's all the way across the front. As front guys, it's linebackers, it's (defensive backs), it doesn't matter. We've got to stop missing tackles and we've got execute the defense and that's what we haven't done the last two weeks. We kind of lacked off of making those tackles and executing the defenses that are called. So we've got to get back to that this week."
A couple of long gains have been especially damaging.
In the Washington game, the Vikings were mounting a comeback and pulled to a 31-26 deficit with 3:36 to play. They had the Redskins at third-and-6 when Griffin escaped a blitz and ran 76 yards for the game-sealing touchdown in a 38-26 Washington win.
In the Bucs game Thursday night, the Vikings were hoping to seize momentum in the second half – they were down 20-10 at halftime – but Martin took a short pass on the third play of the third quarter, made several Vikings miss and trotted 64 yards for a touchdown and a 17-point lead in the 36-17 Tampa Bay win.
"One guy is out of the gap and it messes with the whole defense, kind of a ripple effect or snowball effect," Robison said. "If 10 guys are playing their gap but one guy gets out of their gap, well now you've got a guy who is running north and south when everybody is running east and west. It's just a tough deal. That's why we literally have to rely on every person to do their job."
The Vikings flirted with the top 10 in run defense for much of the first half of the season, but after their performances the last three weeks they are down to 16th in the NFL.
The scheme hasn't changed and the assignments remain the same, Frazier said. The execution, however, has been faulty.
"We haven't changed our run fits in a long, long time. We didn't execute as well as we needed to and it cost us. We have to get it fixed and we will," Frazier said.
Said Robison: "It's not an effort issue. It's not anything like that. It just comes down to execution of the defense. … It's just us not doing our job."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings gapped out on run defense
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