No NFL team has fewer interceptions over the last three seasons than the Minnesota Vikings. They have only managed to pick off 30 passes since 2011. For the mathematically impaired, that’s an average of 10 interceptions per year. For the NFL-impaired, that’s not good at all.
Frankly, anyone associated with the Vikings the past three seasons is shocked to a certain extent at the sight of an interception by someone wearing a Vikings uniform.
There were just three (!) interceptions by Vikings cornerbacks in 2013. Three. As in one more than two. That’s just absurd given that record numbers of passes are thrown in the NFL every year now and cornerbacks are usually right alongside the intended targets of most of those throws. By the way, the other two Vikings corners to intercept passes last year were A.J. Jefferson, who’s no longer on the team, and Shaun Prater, who’s a longshot to make the team this year. Sherels himself is on the roster bubble again this August.
Xavier Rhodes is being positioned as the Vikings’ No. 1 corner… only he didn’t have any interceptions as a rookie last season. Captain Munnerlyn, who was signed out of free agency following five seasons with the Carolina Panthers, is slated to start opposite Rhodes. Munnerlyn has seven interceptions in his career. That’s a little more than one per season, which qualifies him as a ball hawk among Vikings corners.
So what are the Vikings going to do about this interception dilemma? After all, something must be done. Takeaways lead directly to wins. Turnover ratio is one of the most telling statistics in the NFL.
The answer seems fairly simple – beyond just, you know, catching more passes thrown by the opponents. It’s all about defensive scheme.
Vikings fans were ecstatic when they learned that new head coach Mike Zimmer, whose specialty seems to be coaching up (and occasionally using “colorful” language towards) defensive backs, does not employ or probably even condone the Cover-2 defense. We’ve seen enough of the Cover-2 in Minnesota. It was a favorite of the previous administration and led to pillow-soft coverage.
The new name of the game on the Vikings defense is aggression. Sure, it might get you burnt sometimes, especially against some of the uber-talented receivers the Vikings have to contend with in the loaded NFC North. But more aggressive man-to-man coverage should also result in fewer easy receptions, more passes defensed and, by God, more interceptions.
One of the most shocking developments out of the Vikings’ final week of training camp in Mankato was not the fact that Teddy Bridgewater threw five interceptions in the span of two days, it was that the Vikings intercepted five passes in two days. I don’t think they keep records of such things (nor should they) but I’m guessing we haven’t seen an outburst of turnovers like that in Mankato for the better part of a decade.
Of course, training camp interceptions mean about as much as training camp touchdowns. Preseason interceptions are a little more meaningful, and new Vikings safety Kurt Coleman picked one off in the preseason opener against the Raiders to the delight of the Helga Horn-adorned faithful at TCF Bank Stadium.
Half of the Vikings’ interceptions last year came from linebackers and defensive linemen. That percentage has to change, and really should change in Zimmer’s defense. By the way, the Cincinnati Bengals intercepted 34 passes the last two seasons under Zimmer in the same scheme he’s transplanting to the Twin Cities. They had 20 picks last year, tied for fifth in the NFL.
Vikings safety Harrison Smith seems to have a nose for the football, having accounted for five of the team’s 22 interceptions over the past two seasons. He should be good for another handful of interceptions this season.
However, the biggest uptick in picks needs to come from the corners. Rhodes needs to step up in year two and begin picking off passes. Let’s start with one and let’s hope it comes in the first month of the season or else the kid might start wondering if he’s ever going to get one. Munnerlyn needs at least two or three as well.
Opposing quarterbacks have felt too comfortable throwing at the Vikings’ secondary the last three years. If that doesn’t change, this defense is in for another long season of getting sliced and diced by the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.
Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for more reaction to the Vikings’ settlement with Chris Kluwe and take part in our contest to guess the exact date head coach Mike Zimmer names a starting quarterback.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell