How Russell Wilson exposed Vikings' depth issues
The past two weeks have proven to be nothing short of a nightmare for the Vikings, as they witnessed a miraculous comeback by the Green Bay Packers before being subsequently demolished by the Seattle Seahawks. A number of factors played a part in the loss—the offensive line struggled in pass protection, and the defensive line failed to generate consistent pressure—but the back seven’s inability to cover anyone hurt them throughout the game and allowed Russell Wilson to record his second-best game as a passer since he entered the league.
Overall, the Vikings finished with a -11.6 grade in coverage and, amongst defenders to take significant snaps, only Captain Munnerlyn graded positively.
Throughout his career, Terrence Newman’s performances have fluctuated from sublime to downright ugly. He can be brilliant one week and terrible the next. His Week 13 performance fell squarely in the latter category. Overall, he allowed six-of-seven targets to be completed for 61 yards and a touchdown. Newman failed to force an incompletion when covering WRs Doug Baldwin or Tyler Lockett, and missed a tackle on a screen pass. Not his best day, but Newman will likely be back to form soon.
Wake-up call for Kendricks
As can be expected, it wasn’t just 37-year-old veterans who struggled. Rookie middle linebacker Eric Kendricks also had a tough time against Russell Wilson and his weapons. He had his worst game since entering the league, and his first negatively graded game since Week 3 of this season. Kendricks missed a pair of tackles, including failing to bring Wilson down on a scramble, gave up a touchdown, and allowed a pair of first downs. Much like his brother, he’s taking some time to adjust to the rigors of the NFL. Kendricks is currently second from the bottom amongst inside linebackers in both coverage grade (-10.7) and yards per cover snap (1.43). He’s also yet to pick off a pass, and has given up the aforementioned touchdown.
Injuries take their toll
To be fair to the Vikings, losing their three best defensive players made a tough task even more difficult. Linval Joseph is our third overall defensive tackle, and the highest-graded of Minnesota’s pass rushers. Anthony Barr is No. 1 amongst 4-3 outside linebackers, with grades in the top five in each facet of play. His injury deprived the Vikings of their third best pass rusher—not to mention a player with the athleticism capable of bringing Wilson down in the open field. Coupled with the fact Barr is easily Minnesota’s best cover linebacker, his loss was perhaps the most significant of the three. It’s some debate, though, considering how well Harrison Smith has played this year. He’s our third overall safety, and hasn’t allowed a completion longer than 14 yards—and has also held QBs to a rating of just 26.8 when targeting him.
The impact of injuries to such talented players was further compounded by the struggles of their replacements. Antone Exum struggled, in particular, especially in coverage. Overall, he allowed all four targets thrown his way to be completed for 105 yards and a touchdown, and also missed a pair of tackles. He did force and recover a fumble, but found himself in trouble when in space. Robert Blanton did a solid job stepping in, but still gave up a 30 yard completion.
While the Vikings have suffered recent setbacks, they still look well-positioned to claim a playoff spot. If they can get healthy, Newman can find some form, and their rookies can find a way to contribute, Minnesota will be a dangerous team come January.