'We'll work through this': Vikings, Ed Donatell talk fixing defensive issues

Ed Donatell didn’t dance around it when asked about the Minnesota Vikings’ defense in his weekly session with reporters on Wednesday at TCO Performance Center.

The Vikings are currently ranked dead last, No. 32, allowing 403.7 yards per game. Last Sunday for the fifth straight game, Minnesota allowed an opponent to go for more than 400 yards, a franchise record. Jared Goff threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, delaying the Vikings’ NFC North Division title hopes at least a week.

"I don’t feel good about that. What you want to do is contribute to help your team win, we did that 10 times where it was good enough," Donatell said. "What do you do when you don’t have it? You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get to work. I can’t guarantee it in five days, six days, seven days but eventually we’ll be there because we know what we’re doing and how to do it."

Kevin O’Connell said Tuesday there are ongoing conversations between staff and players about how to fix it. O’Connell looks at it through an offensive lens, and how he would attack it.

The problems start up front. The Vikings aren’t generating enough pressure on quarterbacks. Goff didn’t get sacked once last Sunday, and rarely faced pressure. The Vikings are 17th in the NFL, with 30 sacks through 13 games. Donatell isn’t blitzing, and their four-man rush isn’t creating enough discomfort. 

They’re asking their secondary, which has been without Cam Dantzler and Harrison Smith at times, to cover receivers longer.

"We like our four-man rush, they have been so close so many times. We get a lot of hurries from this group, but it’s just that extra little thing if you can hold the coverages a little longer, those rushes will work with four," Donatell said. "Our players are doing what they’re coached to do."

The defense has been inconsistent most of the season, but it’s really come to the forefront the last month. Here’s a look at some of the numbers:

  • The Vikings have allowed 12 passes of at least 30 yards the past four games
  • The Vikings are No. 8 in the NFL with 20 takeaways, not bad through 13 games
  • They’re No. 15 in the NFL on third down (39 percent) – The Lions were 7-of-15 last Sunday
  • They’re No. 17 in the NFL with 30 sacks; Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter have more than half, at 16.5 combined; D.J. Wonnum is next at 3.5
  • They’re No. 18 in red zone defense
  • They’re No. 24 in points allowed (24.1)
  • They’re No. 30 in punts forced, No. 32 in 3-and-outs
  • The Vikings are last in passing yards allowed (287) and total yards (403.7)

Numbers don’t lie, and that’s why O’Connell faced questions Monday about if he’s making changes, whether it be in coaches, play-calling or personnel. Players said after the loss at Detroit it’s up to them to execute.

"As a staff and players together, we’ll work through this and we always have. This is the part that you want to embrace as a coach, looking at people and how do you bring them together to work out of this," Donatell said. "This will be good for everybody in here to see, because we’ll work out of this. There’s no question that we’ll come out of this."

It hasn’t all been completely negative. The defense got game-winning plays from Cam Bynum, Josh Metellus, Dantzler and Patrick Peterson over the course of 10 wins this season.

But there’s been plenty of adversity, especially lately. Dantzler got beat on a long touchdown, and Jameson Williams scored his first career touchdown on a blown coverage.

"Last week we had two balls go over our head deep, that can’t happen, that’s against the vision and the standard of what we’re looking for," Donatell said.

They know things have to change, and quickly. The Vikings can win the NFC North by beating the Colts Saturday, and need to put things together before the playoffs. They have five games left to change it.