Notebook: Vikings coach looks for ways to help shorthanded secondary
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Even with all of the injuries that have hit the Minnesota Vikings' secondary, the numbers are staggering.
In the Vikings' past seven games, opposing quarterbacks have completed 73% of their passes (146-of-200) for 1,808 yards, 18 touchdowns and no interceptions.
"We talked in depth about it the last couple days and what we can do to try to help our guys on the back end," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We'll try some things. You can only do what you can do, but we're going to try to do some things to offset what's happening with some of the quarterbacks that we're facing."
The issues came to a head after last weekend's loss to Denver, in which Tim Tebow posted a career-high 149.3 passer rating and threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns after halftime in a 35-32 Broncos win at the Metrodome.
After the game, Frazier lit into the secondary, saying coaches have "got to identify somebody who can come back there and make a play for us when the ball's in the air." But he acknowledged a day later the Vikings' options are limited.
Top cornerbacks Antoine Winfield (broken collarbone) and Chris Cook (awaiting trial on felony domestic assault charge) are done for the season. So are two of the top three safeties, Husain Abdullah (concussion) and Tyrell Johnson (hamstring), and cornerback Asher Allen missed the debacle against the Broncos because of a shoulder injury.
"We didn't execute when we needed to," safety Jamarca Sanford said. "Just really inconsistent at times. We've just got to keep working, work on being consistent at all times."
Allen's return should provide some sort of boost on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, who rank No. 5 in the NFL in passing yards and have one of the game's best receivers in Calvin Johnson.
But the Vikings still will have rookie Mistral Raymond starting opposite Sanford and some combination of Benny Sapp, Marcus Sherels and rookie Brandon Burton taking subpackage reps at cornerback along with Allen and Cedric Griffin.
"They've done a very good job this season, and it'll be a tremendous challenge for our secondary," Frazier said. "But it's going to require more than our secondary to slow their pass offense down. We're going to need our front to play big for us along with our linebackers to help our secondary. If we can get that, then maybe we can change some of those numbers."
Difference of opinion
Frazier gave an extremely honest assessment Monday when asked about Griffin's play this season.
The veteran is coming off surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees over the past two years and hasn't been close to the same player he was before the injuries.
Frazier said that Griffin is, "not the Cedric we saw before the second ACL injury," last season and added, "it's been a tough year for him."
In fact, Frazier sat Griffin in the Vikings' final two defensive series last Sunday when they were in their base package.
Griffin, who had not spoken to the media since the Vikings' loss Oct. 2 in Kansas City, decided to break his silence Wednesday. Griffin told reporters he is happy with his play and, in his mind, is doing well for where he's at in his recovery.
"I'm doing a good job out there," he said. "So, I can't say anything farther on that. I'm doing really well for where I'm at, so you need to understand that. ... For where I'm at right now my play is just fine. I don't have any problem about the way I've been playing. ... So, I really don't have any criticism about my play."
Asked if he said that because of the fact he's returning from the two knee surgeries, Griffin responded: "I'm doing really well for where I'm at. You should understand what I'm talking about."
Griffin signed a five-year, $28.5 million extension in March 2009. The deal included $10.5 million in guarantees.
He tore his left ACL in the 2009 NFC title game at New Orleans while covering a kickoff to start overtime. Griffin managed to return from that injury by Week 3 of last season, but tore his right ACL in his second game back against the New York Jets.
"You can talk to anybody who's dealt with that situation, I'm doing well for where I'm at, managing it pretty well," Griffin said. "I think I'm doing pretty good, to be honest with you."
A record to avoid
Linebacker Erin Henderson knows the Vikings worst single-season record was 3-13 in 1984 and he has no interest in seeing this year's team finish even worse.
Henderson has shared this thought with teammates as well.
"I made it very clear. I don't want my name associated with anything like that," Henderson said. "We put ourselves in a terrible situation right now. We're a 2-10 football team, worst start in the Vikings' history -- that's not something you want to be associated with, something you want to have your name go down in history as.
"So, whatever we've got to do for these last four, we've got to go out there and figure it out, man. That's not fun. That's not cool. The Vikings have been around for 51 years now. You don't want to be the worst team to ever come through this locker room."
Keeping their focus
The Lions have gained a reputation for being an undisciplined team this season.
They took 11 penalties in each of the past two games, losses to Green Bay and New Orleans, and standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will be serving the second of a two-game NFL suspension on Sunday for stomping on Green Bay guard Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving Day.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams said the Vikings can't concern themselves with the Lions' approach.
"We're trying to get a win," Williams said. "We've got to do whatever it takes. Not to condone any stuff outside the whistles, but between the whistles, we've got to win our individual battles and that'll take care of itself and hopefully, we get a win."
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen was asked about Suh's stomp during a conference call with reporters in Detroit.
"Obviously emotions got the best of him, but he plays hard, he plays with passion and that's good for the game," Allen said. "I enjoy watching him as a defensive player.
"The NFL's like a fraternity, you know what I mean. As much as we battle against each other, there's probably players in the league I don't like and they probably don't like me, but there's a mutual respect out there. I think that's where the line (is drawn).
"You can whoop somebody as much as you want during the whistles and within the rules. Guys are going to get into that kind of stuff, but I mean, stomping on someone is just crossing the line. You know, emotions got the best of him. You just got to learn that that's not acceptable and move on, because that takes away from his good play."
Set to return?
Asher Allen sat out against the Broncos because of a shoulder injury, but Frazier is hoping the cornerback can return Sunday.
"We're going to start him if he can complete things like we expect him to throughout this week," Frazier said.
Allen, who is 5-9, 194 pounds, had been matching up against the opposing team's top wide receiver before he was injured but it's uncertain if that will happen against the Lions' Calvin Johnson, who is 6-5, 236 pounds.
Johnson is second in the NFL with 69 receptions for 1,092 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Allen was listed as limited in Wednesday's practice.
Where was Rudolph?
Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph made a nice catch for a 19-yard touchdown against the Broncos, reaching over and around the head of Denver safety Quinton Carter in the second quarter.
Rudolph, however, spent six of the Vikings' other seven red-zone snaps on the sideline. Frazier explained that a quadriceps injury that had sidelined Rudolph for the previous game played a role in his limited use.
"We have some plays designed just for him in the red zone," Frazier said. "One was the corner route that he ended up making a great catch on. We had some other things set up for him as well.
"Part of what we went through last week was just trying to figure out if he was going to play or not. We had a game plan if he did and if he didn't. We have some things in place for him in the red zone. Some we were able to get to and some we weren't."
• Vikings left guard Steve Hutchinson did not practice on Wednesday because of an illness. Running back Adrian Peterson (ankle), quarterback Christian Ponder (hip) and defensive end Brian Robison (concussion) also sat out for the Vikings. Linebacker Chad Greenway (elbow), defensive end Everson Griffen (quadriceps) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hand) were limited.
• Six players did not take part in practice for the Lions, including safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), cornerback Chris Houston (knee), defensive ends Lawrence Jackson (thigh) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (not injury related) and running back Kevin Smith (ankle). Linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring), cornerback Brandon McDonald (thigh), guard Rob Sims (shoulder) and defensive end Willie Young (ankle) were limited.