The Vikings are halfway through their 2020 schedule at 3-5. Every day leading up to Monday night's game in Chicago, we'll break down how each position has fared so far.
Cornerbacks: Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler, Kris Boyd, Chris jones, Harrison Hand, Dylan Mabin, Mike Hughes (IR) and Holton Hill (roster exemption)
Safeties: Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Josh Metellus and Curtis Riley
A dropoff was anticipated after the Vikings defense lost its top three cornerbacks, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, to free agency last offseason. But even Zimmer admitted he may have misjudged their ability to cover after being aggressive with his veteran safeties out of the gate. Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris have since been better deployed to assist the young corners. Nobody has been helped by a disappointing pass rush. Cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Holton Hill were expected to take next steps in their careers, but haven't stayed on the field. Cameron Dantzler, the third-round rookie, has been the surprise of the group, earning a starting role out of camp while flashing in coverage.
Where they are
The Vikings’ 30th-ranked pass defense has seen 12 different defenders in the secondary between eight corners and four safeties. Some of those safeties have had to play cornerback. It’s what coach Mike Zimmer called “status quo” for a young defense undercut by injuries and growing pains, even as they’ve started to patch things together for a couple NFC North wins. A rude awakening came in Week 1, when Aaron Rodgers dismantled a relatively healthy Vikings secondary in the 43-34 loss. The most recent win at Lambeau showed growth, not only from a young defense but a coaching staff that didn’t isolate its young corners as often. They’ve rebounded despite losing the most experienced corners, Mike Hughes (neck) and Holton Hill (foot), to injuries in the first month of the season. Rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler have shouldered heavier workloads than expected, with Dantzler missing time to rib and concussion issues. The third corner in Sunday’s win over Detroit, Chris Jones, just joined the team on Oct. 26. Hughes was thought to be over the fractured vertebra in his neck that ended his 2019 season, but the issue resurfaced after the Week 2 loss in Indianapolis. He appeared in four games before landing on I.R. Hill hasn't played since Oct. 4 in Houston due to a foot injury.
Player to watch
Gladney. Vikings coaches put much on his plate as the first-round rookie starts as an outside corner but moves inside to defend the slot in nickel packages. He’s overcome a slow start, due in part to a lingering knee issue stemming from offseason surgery, and has played more than any Vikings corner (83%). He’s hardnosed against the run and doesn’t hesitate to close on perimeter passes. While Gladney has taken some lumps in coverage, Zimmer said he’s liked a lot of what he’s seen so far. His next step, according to coaches, will be finding nuanced ways to read offenses.
32 — Only three NFL defenses, the Falcons, Seahawks and Bengals, have allowed more completions of at least 20 yards than the Vikings’ 32. Injuries and inexperience have combined to decimate a once-dominant downfield wall. Minnesota’s No. 1-ranked defense in 2017, which anchored a run to the NFC Championship Game, allowed 35 such plays that entire regular season. But, they’ve since adjusted out of the bye week to better results, and don’t exactly face the toughest of slates with Chicago’s Nick Foles and the Cowboys quarterback situation on deck.