Frazier sticks by Josh Robinson, secondary despite porous play
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier didn't hedge his bet when sticking by cornerback Josh Robinson on Monday, a day after his defense allowed a season-high 35 points in front of 63,963 fans at the Metrodome.
Frazier even said Robinson had one of his better games in the slot position after the second-year cornerback gave up the Panthers' first touchdown on their initial drive. Robinson then watched as Panthers quarterback Cam Newton completed a 79-yard touchdown to receiver Bradnon LaFell over his head to start the second half.
"Josh will still be our nickel back, Josh actually did a pretty good job for us yesterday, I know some will think he didn't do some things well, but he did some good things in that ballgame, had one of his better ball games inside, didn't give up any big plays for us, which was encouraging," Frazier said.
Much talk has been made of the quarterback situation, but the Vikings defense has given up 31.6 points per game (30th) and has allowed 308 passing yards per contest (29th) to go into their 418 average total yards allowed (31st).
Robinson, who has been the main liability in pass coverage, was only targeted a season-low four times on Sunday after seeing 38 passes thrown his way through the first four games. He was credited with allowing the 79-yard touchdown pass to open the third quarter, but Frazier said that wasn't entirely his fault.
On the play, it appears cornerback Xavier Rhodes is lined up on Robinson's side and appears to play man coverage as he turns and runs with receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Robinson plays a zone near the sideline as safety Jamarca Sanford appears to cover Ginn as well in the middle third of the field. The result was a wide open LaFell near the sideline nearly 10 yards away from a defender.
After the game, Robinson said "we knew it was man [coverage]," yet he appeared to play zone. Frazier contradicted his cornerback and said it was zone coverage on the play.
"I wouldn't put that all on Josh [Robinson]," Frazier said. "You'd like for he and Xavier [Rhodes] to have a chance to make that play between the two of them. But I wouldn't put it all on Josh [Robinson] at all."
Robinson's struggles are one thing, but this group can't perform well enough when healthy - and they can't even do that. After returning cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford to the lineup on Sunday, safety Harrison Smith left with turf toe and Rhodes suffered an ankle sprain.
Rhodes returned to the game, but left in the fourth quarter. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams stressed in training camp that his young defenders shouldn't re-enter a game if they're going to compromise the scheme. Frazier said Rhodes' MRI results were negative.
"It's just a simple sprain," Rhodes said. "When I tried to go out I aggravated it again and they took me out of the game. So I won't do it again."
Frazier didn't have any update on Smith, who was seen hobbling around the locker room in what appeared to be a protective boot. Smith played 46 snaps before leaving with the foot injury.
Looking back, the Vikings could use an extra cornerback after electing to keep just five on their active roster heading into the season. They placed cornerback Bobby Felder, who had an impressive preseason, on injured reserve with a similar ankle sprain that Rhodes will likely play with next week.
Frazier didn't rule out recruiting help at the linebacker position with Desmond Bishop out for the season to a torn ACL, but the third-year coach -- and former cornerback -- continues to stick by his personnel in the secondary.
"Each time you guys would ask me back in the summer about our young secondary I was pretty consistent they were going to be young, there were going to be some things we would have to go through as they were developing," Frazier said. "If you are a rookie in the national football league, or it's your first time playing the nickel back position in our defense, there are going to be some challenges. But they are going to get better, our defense will get better along with them."
"We've just got to keep playing them and letting them improve, have confidence that they are going to make some plays for us and win some games for us. This week against New York will be a prime time for them to jump up."