Vikings fans might want to reconsider their signature cheer. When they slap palms overhead and chant “Skol!’’ it appears that what opposing offenses are hearing is “Score!”
This was another embarrassing week for what two years ago was the NFL’s top-ranked defense. On Monday night, the Vikings allowed 37 points and 444 yards to Seattle while star cornerback Xavier Rhodes threw a fit on the field and sideline.
Rhodes apologized on Wednesday, but his mood, if not his tantrum, fit the Vikings’ dire situation. Their defense is in decline because of some of their best and highest-paid players.
The Detroit Lions tend to be chicken soup for a franchise’s soul, but the Vikings have proved over the past two months that they can make almost anybody look good. Even the Broncos, who employ an offense only so Von Miller can rest.
Through five weeks, the Vikings defense looked familiar, allowing an average of 14.6 points and 292.4 yards per game, with many of those yards produced by Atlanta and Oakland at the end of blowouts.
At that point, the Vikings were 3-2 and Kirk Cousins and his relationship with his receivers ranked as the franchise’s biggest concerns.
Trouble for the defense arose, strangely, amid a winning streak. The Vikings beat Philadelphia 38-20 but gave up 400 yards. They won in Detroit 42-30 but allowed 433 yards and four touchdowns to Marvin “Not Julio” Jones.
Then came a reprieve. The Vikings faced Washington at home on a Thursday night, and Washington displayed all of the organization savvy and maturity we have come to expect of Daniel Snyder’s losers, with the Vikings winning 19-9 and holding Case Keenum & Co. to 216 yards.
Against a backup quarterback in Kansas City who was out of the league last year, the Vikings allowed 26 points and 377 yards, including a stunning, straight-line 91-yard touchdown run on which Damien Williams was barely touched.
Against the Dallas Cowboys, the Vikings won 28-24 but allowed 443 yards and may have survived only because of the Cowboys’ silly play-calling in the red zone on their final drive.
Against the Broncos at home, the Vikings fell behind a bad team and another backup quarterback 20-0 at the half before rallying to win. The Broncos managed 394 yards.
Then came Seattle, with the Seahawks rushing for 218 yards and torching Rhodes on a 60-yard touchdown pass to a reserve receiver.
The defense ranks 16th in the NFL in total yards allowed, 20th against the pass and 15th against the run. Over the past seven games, the Vikings have allowed an average of 387 yards per game (which would rank 28th in the NFL if extrapolated over the full season) and 415 if you remove the Washington gimme.
Their problem is simple: Four highly paid veterans are in decline or hampered by injuries.
Rhodes, 29, was once one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the league; now he’s the target of offensive game plans.
Defensive end Everson Griffen, 31, was having a quality season until he wasn’t. In recent weeks he has disappeared.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph, 31, rushed back from knee surgery and was not himself against Seattle.
Anthony Barr, 27, had 7 ½ sacks in his first two NFL seasons. He has 7 ½ sacks over the rest of his career, from the beginning of the 2016 season through today. That may not be the ideal statistic by which to evaluate a linebacker, but the Vikings were wary of signing Barr to a long-term contract unless he improved his pass-rushing skills. He didn’t, and they signed him anyway.
After flirting with the Jets, Barr signed a five-year contract, earning himself some stability. The others can’t feel safe.
The Vikings could save $8.1 million on their 2020 salary cap by cutting Rhodes and $12.45 million by cutting Joseph, and Griffen is likely to trigger statistical milestones that will make him a free agent.
Rhodes, Joseph and Griffen have been excellent players for the Vikings, who this month desperately need them to turn back the clock.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org