Frustrated Players Offer Varying Opinions

As the losses mount and the frustration grows, Vikings players are giving different explanations as to what has gone wrong and why. And, still, they hold onto the hope of being only two games out of the lead in a lousy division with nine games left to play.

The pressure of mounting losses and a season once high with hope slipping further into futility has some players finally showing their frustration.

The anxiety from the Vikings' 2-5 record and consistent blowout losses on the road has produced two theories among Vikings players: 1) The schemes aren't being called right; 2) The schemes aren't being executed right.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield has expressed his frustration that the Vikings stuck with their single coverage on Carolina receiver Steve Smith, using cornerback Fred Smoot almost exclusively to single cover the speedy receiver. Winfield indicated he hoped the Vikings would give more safety help and not just allow Smoot a shot at stopping one of the league's best deep threats.

Safety Darren Sharper, meanwhile, said the Vikings did vary their coverages on Smith. There were times when the Vikings used a zone coverage or gave help on Smith over the top, but Winfield told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that happened on only two of 70 plays.

Sharper said he thinks the lack of success on defense is the players' fault.

"It has been shocking because I know we have the talent out there to perform better as a defense," Sharper said. "That's something we have to look at ourselves to improve. Right now, we're not playing – the guys that we have, the careers we've had, the resumes we've brought to this team – we're not performing at that level. But we still have nine games to go and we still have a chance to improve upon that."

Why aren't the players – including the big-buck defensive free agents acquired the past couple of offseasons – having success?

"I don't have an answer for that," Sharper said.

Early in the season, several Vikings players indicated that defenders weren't in the right position to make plays, and according to Sharper there are still times where that is happening – too often.

"Not the way it should be, we're not in the proper spots and sometimes we're confused as far as what we're doing. It's on the players – you have to know where you have to be," he said.

A switch to the 3-4 defense three games ago seemed to make a difference in stopping opposing running attacks and the defense overall improved, but in the past two games the Vikings haven't produced a single sack.

"We're not getting enough pressure. That's just the facts," Sharper said.

Defensive end Spencer Johnson, who hasn't been active since the Vikings started employing the 3-4 as their main defensive set, agrees that there hasn't been enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

However, he didn't necessarily blame the players or the schemes. Instead, Johnson puts some of the onus on the type of offenses the Vikings have been facing.

"It's more or less the timing of the offense, being in the 3-4 or whatnot. There are a lot more blitzes that should be run, but the offenses really have their timing down," he said. "The last couple teams have had the three-step drops with the receiver running the correct routes and the quarterback is getting him the ball right when the defensive linemen or the blitz is getting there. It's been a lot of timing in the issue."

When Viking Update asked Sharper if there was too much emphasis on stopping the run, leaving the defensive backfield exposed to too many dangers, he shot that theory down.

"I think our initial goal is always to stop the run, and from the good defenses I've been around, that's always the initial goal to keep teams from running the football because the fact is they can try to control the time clock by running the football," Sharper said. "And getting the chains moving also keeps your defense on the field a long time. If you allow a team to run the football, it wears you down. Our goal is always to stop the run and we're going to fix things on the back end this next game."

Whatever the problems facing the Vikings' 27th-ranked defense, players described a quiet plane ride on their trip back from Carolina.

"It was pretty solemn, not much talking," center Melvin Fowler said. "Things haven't gone the way we've hoped or wanted it to go, but the season is still early. A lot of things can happen. I was in a similar situation in Cleveland and we ended up making the playoffs at 9-7. It's still early and there is a lot of football to be played."

Where is rock bottom for this team?

"When that 16th game comes and we're still not in the playoffs," Sharper said. "Hopefully it doesn't come to that. The reality of it is in our division, we still have a chance to win it. We face most of the teams that are ahead of us and have a chance to put them hopefully below us."

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