If you’re at Winter Park and you’re comparing anything to 2011, rest assured things are not going well. Particularly if the comparisons have anything to do with the Vikings’ record and the play of their secondary.
Well, hold on Purple fans, because here goes …
In 2011, the Vikings went into their sixth game with a 1-4 record, a struggling secondary and their best defensive back — cornerback Antoine Winfield — sidelined indefinitely because of a neck injury.
This year, the Vikings head into their sixth game with a 1-4 record, a struggling secondary and their best defensive back — free safety Harrison Smith — sidelined indefinitely because of a turf toe injury suffered in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers.
Is 2013’s secondary starting to disintegrate into the 2011 version? What say you, coach Leslie Frazier?
“No,” he said. “No, no, no, no, no.”
That would be a no, according to Frazier.
“We’ll be all right,” he said.
Thursday’s news that Smith will miss Monday night’s game against the Giants and is a candidate for injured reserve is about the worst possible news for a pass defense that already ranks in the bottom 10 in passer rating (95.7), completion percentage (66.7), net yards (308.0) and touchdowns allowed (13).
Smith is third on the team in tackles (41) and tied for first in interceptions (two). No one else in the secondary has an interception, which puts the Vikings alongside the Jets and Steelers as the only teams with no interceptions by a cornerback.
With Smith, a first-round draft pick a year ago, sidelined, Andrew Sendejo, a former UFL standout who went undrafted before latching on with the Vikings as a special teamer/backup in 2011, will make his second NFL start. His first came two games ago when he replaced injured strong safety Jamarca Sanford in the 34-27 victory over the Steelers in London.
Mistral Raymond, whose once-promising career has cooled because of an inability to stay healthy, and Robert Blanton, a second-year player who is still making the transition from college cornerback, also are available.
“Andrew, Mistral, Robert Blanton, those guys will do a good job when they’re in there,” Frazier said. “Jamarca will be out there. But Harrison, he’s a big-play guy for us, so we’re going to miss him.”
Smith and the Vikings are still deciding whether surgery or rest is necessary. Frazier said Smith is a candidate to be placed on injured reserve with the designation to return after eight weeks. He could start practicing after six weeks. A decision will come in “the next day or two,” Frazier said.
Against the Steelers, Sendejo had a career-high six tackles while Raymond tied his career high with seven in the only game for which he’s been active this season. However, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continued the pattern of opposing quarterbacks punishing the Vikings secondary, completing 70.6 percent of his 51 passes for 383 yards.
Next up is Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He ranks 33rd in passer rating (64.0), a distant last in interceptions (15) and is completing only 53.7 percent of his passes. But he’s also averaging 286.8 yards passing per game and, oh yeah, he’s got those two Super Bowl MVPs.
Actually stooping to the level of 2011 will take some more imploding for the Vikings secondary. That year, opponents completed 68.2 percent of their passes, which was second-worst in the league, and posted a 107.9 passer rating, which was second-worst in NFL history behind the 2008 Lions team that went 0-16.
Of course, in 2008, Winfield played only five games while the team’s other starting corner, Chris Cook, played only six because of legal issues off the field. Cedric Griffin, who also went into that season as one of the team’s top three corners, never returned to form after tearing the anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees the previous two seasons.
This year, the top three corners — Cook, Josh Robinson and rookie Xavier Rhodes —are healthy, although Rhodes was limited in Thursday’s practice because of an ankle sprain. Having those three still on the field, regardless of their success to this point, is what keeps Frazier from feeling like he’s repeating 2011.
“I knew where we were, and I also know the NFL,” Frazier said. “People are going to throw the ball, and they’re going to throw it and they’re going to throw it. You’ve got to be able to defend it different ways. When you have a young secondary, there are going to be some things that you have to go through. But we’re going to get better. They will improve.”