Winfield's injury felt by many on Vikings' defense

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2012 - 11:06 PM

The Vikings were forced to shuffle their defensive backs when the veteran had to leave the game.

Antoine Winfield's broken right hand actually caused more pain for Josh Robinson's playing time than it did for Winfield's during a 37-34 playoff-clinching win over the Packers at Mall of America Field on Sunday.

And that's something Vikings coach Leslie Frazier will look into changing as Winfield's playing status appears questionable at best for Saturday night's wild-card playoff rematch at Lambeau Field.

When all of the Vikings corners are healthy, the top three are Winfield, Chris Cook and Robinson, the rookie third-round draft pick. In the nickel, which the Vikings use heavily, Winfield slides inside over the slot while Robinson enters the game and plays over the outside receiver.

But when the pain of a fractured hand forced Winfield to leave the field for good in the second quarter, it also essentially knocked Robinson out of the game as well. Winfield played just 18 of 64 defensive snaps (28 percent), while Robinson played only 14 (22 percent).

Why?

Because Robinson has limited experience covering the slot. So that meant Marcus Sherels, the team's top return guy on special teams, spent more than half the game as the nickel back against reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers. Sherels, the team's No. 5 cornerback, actually ended up playing 32 defensive snaps (50 percent) because of his experience covering the slot.

Asked if that approach results in the team sidelining two better defenders because of one injury, coach Leslie Frazier said, "Not necessarily. It depends on how you view their skill set. Where is a guy best at for what we do?

"We deemed Josh as a guy we thought would be better outside versus inside. So we trained Marcus, Antoine and a couple other guys to play inside. And we have a role for Josh, and he's filled that role very well for us. But from our standpoint? No, we don't think so."

Frazier did, however, say things could change this week if Winfield isn't able to play.

"... There are some things we'll have to look at for this ballgame that we may do a little bit different," he said.

Before Winfield left for good, Rodgers had completed 7 of 14 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings led 20-7.

With Winfield out and Sherels in as the nickel back, Rodgers completed 21 of 36 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers challenged Sherels multiple times, including a play in which receiver Jordy Nelson beat Sherels for a 73-yard completion.

That's a big concern when you hear Frazier say this about his best defensive back:

"Injury-wise, we don't know what's going to happen with Antoine. We'll see how he does throughout the week.

"He was in quite a bit of pain [Sunday]."

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