Vikings-Ravens: Pass the Defense, Please; and Other Observations

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Vikings-Ravens: Pass the Defense, Please; and Other Observations
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

An embarrassing final period. An epic near-collapse. A defensive meltdown worse than any other in the Brad Childress era.

With wins like this, who needs a loss?

Minnesota should take many emotions away from Sunday’s escape from disaster—shock, confusion, chagrin—but relief isn’t one of them.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with a close victory over a quality opponent like Baltimore. There’s nothing wrong with another stellar day from Brett Favre (21-of-29, 278 yards, three touchdowns). There’s nothing wrong with 143 yards on 22 carries from Adrian Peterson.

But there’s something very wrong with a defense that has allowed 400 yards or more in three consecutive games—after letting opponents reach that mark just three times in defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s first 35 games at the helm.  

The 1,272 yards Minnesota has given up over the past three weeks are the most surrendered in any three-game stretch of Frazier’s tenure. The 448 yards gained by the Ravens were the most by any Vikings opponent since 2005.

Wins in all three of those games have kept most critics quiet, but in the long run, that kind of generosity is unsustainable.

So what’s the problem? Opponents are starting to figure out that the Vikings are stout on the ground, but prone to lapses in defending the pass.

This is not a new phenomenon. Last season, Minnesota’s pass defense was the definition of average. The Vikes ranked 16th in the league in both completion percentage allowed (61.1 percent) and opponent passer rating (81.5), and 18th in passing yards allowed.

A strong pass rush covers up plenty of shortcomings, and Minnesota’s front four do plenty of covering: The team finished fourth in the NFL in sacks last year, and currently leads the league with 16.

But when Jared Allen & Co. aren’t getting to the quarterback, the secondary is far from airtight. In fact, this year, it’s gone from middling to frightening. Consider that the Vikings have allowed:

  • The ninth-best opposing passer rating (91.0) in the league.
  • The seventh-highest completion percentage (64.9 percent).
  • The seventh-most yards passing (1,490).
  • The second-most pass plays of 20 yards or longer (24).

Timely turnovers have limited the damage, and it’s fair to point Minnesota’s defensive numbers are skewed by late slippage in games that were well in hand. But as the Ravens came oh-so-close to proving yesterday, one of those slips is going to knock this team on it’s butt before all is said and done.

I can hear the objections already: Why should we care about any of this if they’re 6-0? Two reasons:

  • The Vikings are dangerously close to reverting to the Denny Green-era habit of trading points like penny stocks (and we all know how that worked out).
  • If you want to beat New York, New Orleans, Atlanta, or just about anybody else in the NFC playoff chase, you need to stop the pass.

Any extended absence by Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield, who left in the first half with a sprained foot, won’t help matters. If the Vikings don’t have the personnel to stick with receivers in coverage, they might want to consider dialing up a few more blitzes that bring the linebackers—who have just 2.5 sacks on the year—into the backfield. If they’re relying on one strength to disrupt the pass, they might as well play it up.

Whatever needs to happen, it needs to happen soon: The Vikes are in Pittsburgh on Sunday, and Ben Roethlisberger currently ranks first in yards passing, second in completion percentage and fourth in passer rating.

If the secondary still has holes at that point, he’s going to find them.

In other news…

Never Tell Me the Odds

Brett Favre thought Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka was going to make his 44-yard game-winning attempt as time expired. Brad Childress told Adrian Peterson Hauschka was going to miss it.

Childress was right, but he’d be well advised not to bet the mortgage on that call going forward.

NFL kickers have attempted 96 field goals between 40 and 50 yards this season. They’ve connected on 67 of those, a 69 percent rate of success. I can’t say how being in a dome full of screaming Vikings fans impacts those odds, but it’s safe to say the Men of Chilly got lucky.

The miss was reminiscent over Minnesota’s 28-27 win over Green Bay at the Dome last December, in which Packers kicker Mason Crosby couldn’t connect on a 52-yarder with 26 seconds to go. Much like Hauschka’s kick, that attempt wasn’t wide by much.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a little “you can’t kick here in the clutch” mystique, so if the Vikes are building credibility in that department, more power to them.

Are We a Powerhouse Yet?

Before the season started, more than a few pundits predicted the rise of the NFC North as the conference’s new elite division.

Six weeks in, the jury’s still out.

On one hand, the Vikings are certainly carving out a place as one of the NFC’s legitimate contenders. The Bears are playing everybody tough, and the Packers are coming off a 26-0 blowout.

On the other, Green Bay’s win came at the expense of another North team—the Lions, who look as bad as ever in the wake of injuries to Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. If those two aren’t back soon, Detroit could flirt with 2008-level misery.

Three of the North’s four teams have winning records, but in the top-heavy NFC, 10 teams can say that much. All of those clubs probably have the talent to contend for a playoff spot (and if the Panthers beat Atlanta next week to climb back to .500, they’ll be in the mix as well, believe it or not).

In a field packed so tightly, those head-to-head matchups will loom large in the final standings—and go a long way toward determining which division reigns supreme.

Is Chilly Going to Grow That Chia Pet on His Face Until They Lose?

If so, I’m tempted to root for the Steelers this week, just so we can move on.

This article is also featured on Purple Reign , a part of MTR Media. For more on the NFL, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher .

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