The Minnesota Vikings face as many challenges as many of the 2011 non-playoff teams entering the 2011-2012 off-season. Those challenges are mitigated, however, by the fact that the Vikings have some high-caliber players at key positions. Those players make the team's prospects brighter than are those for teams such as the Colts, Cardinals, Browns, Jets, Bucs, or many of the other teams left out of this year's playoffs.
Turning around the Vikings in short order is a tall task. And it could well be that neither the Vikings' front office nor the team's coaching staff is anywhere near up to the challenge.
The challenge will require the Vikings not only to bring in the right personnel, but also to use players properly and employ useful schemes. Scheming has been a problem for Frazier, dating to his days as a defensive coordinator. Though the Vikings generally did well against the run under Frazier, they did so largely due to the presence of both Pat and Kevin Williams, as well as a healthy E.J. Henderson. The recently released Karl Dunbar and demoted Fred Pagac arguably did more impressive jobs against the run this year, however, fielding a squad missing Pat Williams and absent a healthy E.J. Henderson.
Defending the pass, however, has been the Vikings' achilles, dating back to Frazier's arrival in Minnesota. Even in good times, when Antoine Winfield and Darren Sharper both played on a consistent basis, the Vikings had their issues on pass defense, rarely faring much better than average in yards allowed. Sharper was the first to put public voice to concerns over the Vikings' Cover-2, suggesting in strong terms that the team would be better suited with a read-and-react approach. Sharper's criticism led, in part, to his departure from Minnesota. One year later, under the Saints' read-and-react scheme, Sharper turned in one of his best seasons in the league.
The challenge with employing the Cover-2 is that it requires a star middle linebacker who can cover tight ends and defend against the run, cornerbacks who can tackle for short gains, and safeties who can close gaps between the corner and safety, either making picks or minimizing yards after the reception.
For the past two seasons, if not longer, the Vikings have attempted to play Cover-2 with an aging, oft-injured, and under-sized cornerback in Winfield, a mentally challenged cornerback in Chris Cook, a gimpy cornerback in Cedric Griffin, safeties who clearly have not been indoctrinated in any fashion of coverage, any number of rookie and off-the-street cornerbacks and safeties, and a middle linebacker who cannot cover tight ends and has lost explosion along the line.
There is no logical reason to stick with the Cover-2 either in Minnesota or anywhere else in the league when the game has changed so much to favor the passing attack and receivers are increasingly bigger and stronger. In this era, Cover-2, at its best, merely delays touchdown drives, particularly absent a star middle linebacker anchoring the system. All of this suggests that some form of a read-and-react scheme is more appropriate generally speaking and particularly more appropriate in Minnesota, given Minnesota's current roster.
If the Vikings insist on playing Cover-2 next season, therefore, it will be for one of two reasons--either Frazier is simply being stubborn or he does not know any other way to play defense, such as it is.
Assuming that the Vikings are committed to the Cover-2, to be competitive next year on defense they will need to add to their roster a middle linebacker, two cornerbacks, and at least one safety. That suggests that the Vikings could be eyeing LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, one year after the team passed on former Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara in favor of selecting quarterback Christian Ponder.
Ponder's selection was the Vikings' reaction to years of quarterback uncertainty in Minnesota. Given essentially the same decision-makers in Minnesota in 2012, albeit a modified chain-of-command, that likely means that 2012 will be the year that the Vikings, out of frustration with their secondary woes, select a presumed star cornerback in round one.
That decision, as would be the decision to address the long-standing short-coming at wide-out by selecting the speedy and athletic Justin Blackburn, would be a mistake.
Up Next: Beginning the Rebuilding on Offense.