Minnesota Vikings: 5 Defensive Changes That Have To Be Made
The Minnesota Vikings are well on their way to the worst record in franchise history. Losses to the Redskins and the Bears to finish out the season would forever cement this team in infamy as the worst Minnesota Vikings team to ever play the game.
While you could look on the bright side of this horrendous season and recognize that the Vikings will likely end up with a great new wide receiver or left tackle, it's hard to ignore the fact that the defense seems to get worse and worse with each coming week.
The most difficult aspect of that take is that, with all the needs on offense, the Vikings will likely ignore their need on defense through the first two rounds of the draft. This means that Minnesota will have to be very active in free agency and work very hard to develop the young players they already have into consistent role players who can step up if need be.
Their most recent loss to the Saints was low-lighted by a 419-yard, five-touchdown thumping at the hands of QB Drew Brees. With the secondary in shambles, there's no confusion as to why the Vikings keep getting burned deep, but ultimately, most of the players on the defensive side of the ball could be playing for their jobs in these coming weeks.
By next season, expect to see a lot of new faces on the Vikings' roster. It would be hard to imagine a Vikings team worse than this one, but here are five changes that need to happen for the Vikings on defense in 2012.
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I already alluded to the fact that the Vikings' secondary needs some drastic changes, so we might as well start there.
Injuries to Antoine Winfield and Husain Abdullah in combination with legal trouble from Chris Cook left this unit in a tough situation only a few weeks into the season. While none of them are superstars by any means, these were all huge blows to a secondary that really wasn't terrible the first five weeks of the season.
Winfield has always been the lone veteran in this secondary. He isn't a lockdown corner, but it's hard to find a guy that can tackle better or put more effort into his game than him.
Abdullah, though a bit shaky at times, was really developing into a solid starter at free safety. He wasn't a splash player and didn't make a ton of big plays, but he did his job, and that's apparently more than you can ask of this secondary since he's been hurt.
Cook, after finally recovering from an injury-plagued rookie season, was looking good and actually showed some potential as a lockdown corner. If his legal issues are resolved, allowing him to continue his NFL career, the Vikings will be anxious to get him back.
The rest of the secondary has been made up of Asher Allen and Tyrell Johnson, who have both seen their fair share of injuries this season as well, as well as Cedric Griffin, Jamarca Sanford, Marcus Sherels, Benny Sapp, Brandon Burton and Mistral Raymond.
Being that three of these guys are getting significant playing time as rookies, I'm not mad at them for not shutting down the New Orleans Saints or Green Bay Packers. Guys like Johnson and Griffin who've been given multiple chances to be starters in the NFL have been so bad this season, that they might not be with the team by next season.
Forcing these guys to play significant amounts of time in the secondary have really hurt the special teams units as well. Jamarca Sanford is an excellent gunner on the kickoff and punt teams, but his starting role as the strong safety hasn't allowed him to play on special teams, which is allowing teams to return the ball against the Vikings much more productively.
Expect the Vikings to address the secondary in free agency and in the draft. This draft class is very deep for DBs, and I expect to see at least three picks to address this area of the defense.
With guys like Tracy Porter, Cortland Finnegan, LaRon Landry and Reshean Mathis (among many others) as free agents after the season, it's hard to imagine that Minnesota doesn't pursue at least one of these guys.
The way that I see it, these are the only guys that have locks on roster spots next season:
CB: Antoine Winfield, Asher Allen, Benny Sapp, Brandon Burton
S: Husain Abdullah, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford
This would leave several spots open for new guys, and hopefully, a much more productive secondary unit for the Vikings.
Find a Starting Nose Tackle
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Over the course of this season, I've had mixed feelings about NT Remi Ayodele.
He began the season about as unproductive as you can get as a starter. He blamed that lack of production on the fact that he was forced to play in a three-point stance, which he was not used to playing. Since switching back to a four-point stance, his game has improved, even to the point that he's tallied a few sacks.
I was ready to stand up for him leading into the game against the Saints, but he failed to show up yet again. The Saints were allowed to run for over 160 yards against what was one of the top run-stuffing defenses in the NFL not so long ago.
The hole left in the Williams Wall by Big Pat Williams clearly has not been filled to this point.
At some point, this needs to be addressed with a draft pick, but it's not important enough to address this season. For now, the Vikings can look to their own roster to develop a young guy like Christian Ballard to fill this role.
I realize that Ballard is more suited to play the same style of tackle as Kevin Williams, but two speed rushing DTs on the same line could be pretty productive for the Vikings. Sufficient pressure from all four defensive linemen would almost mask the fact that they don't possess a run-stuffing nose tackle.
They could also make up for that by having a deeper, more productive group of linebackers.
Convert Everson Griffen to OLB
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I'm going to say this the only way I know how to: Everson Griffen is being wasted as a Viking. This guy has the talent and potential to be a starter at DE on just about any NFL team.
Griffen has four sacks and a fumble recovery to complement an adequate 21 tackles coming off the bench. On a play against the Saints, Griffen lined up at the RDE spot and played man on Jimmy Graham. On that play, he ran with the freakish TE and defensed a bullet pass from Drew Brees.
He's played plenty of plays at the LB spot in nickel formations this season, and really, hasn't done too bad.
I'm suggesting, and I'd like to give credit for this take to Scott Reighard, that the Vikings should convert Griffen to the strong-side linebacker spot. If he's able to lose some weight and develop as a stand-up edge-rusher, he could be very dangerous in pressuring QBs.
Utilizing Griffen as an OLB would not just allow the Vikings to make use of a talented player that should be on the field more, they would also be adding some much-needed depth to a group of linebackers that's just getting embarrassed on screen plays and other passes to running backs.
Griffen is a very smart, talented and athletic player. If he's utilized as a linebacker instead of as a backup defensive end, this team would have the opportunity to be much more aggressive on defense and put more pressure on opposing QBs.
Linebackers coach Mike Singletary has developed some of the best linebackers in the NFL. I'm sure he could find a use for a big, strong edge-rusher like Griffen.
Move Chad Greenway to the Weak Side
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Converting Everson Griffen to the strong-side linebacker spot would also allow the Vikings to move their leading-tackler Chad Greenway to the weak side, where he's much more physically suited to play.
Greenway is not a rushing linebacker. His strengths come in coverage and tackling in the open field.
If Greenway was allowed to play the weak side, the Vikings would be able to use Erin Henderson in depth and keep him fresh in nickel packages, where he has truly excelled.
Greenway's size keeps him from being a dominant edge-rusher, but his speed and ball skills really come out when he's covering a TE or RB.
EJ Henderson is still a great run-stuffing MLB, but his coverage skills have certainly diminished since his terrible leg injury two years back. Having Greenway back in coverage more would allow the Vikings to mask Henderson's deficiencies and still have a solid rusher in Griffen.
The return of a healthy Jasper Brinkley in 2012 will be a nice breath of fresh air for this LB unit. The addition of Griffen and the return of Brinkley could be the recipe for a dominating group of young linebackers for the Vikings.
Replace Pagac with Singletary as Defensive Coordinator
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After the secondary, the biggest portion of blame for this defense has to go on defensive coordinator Fred Pagac.
Pagac looked pretty good as the interim DC against the Eagles in 2010 but has looked pretty incompetent at times this season. It has even gotten bad enough that Frazier has had to step in during some games this season.
You obviously can't blame Pagac for the injuries this squad has sustained, but he has to answer for the clear miscommunication and simple mistakes that have plagued this defense.
This past offseason, Les Frazier brought in a great linebackers coach to also help fill the role of Assistant Head Coach. His former teammate from the 1985 Chicago Bears Mike Singletary could be one of the top LB coaches in the NFL.
Though Singletary hasn't formally commanded his own defense before, he has experience as an NFL head coach and has no problem holding players accountable for their play.
A report by ESPN1500.com's Tom Pelissero suggests that a shift with Singletary as the new DC wouldn't be too far-fetched. The concerning part of this report is that it suggests that Singletary would switch the base defense to a 3-4, but that's an argument for another day.
Nonetheless, having Singletary replace Pagac as the defensive coordinator would instill a sense of accountability that really isn't very prevalent in this defense right now.
Thanks for reading.