Vikings coordinators on Thursday each answered questions for failures in different phases of Sunday’s 31-30 loss at Chicago.
On defense, the Vikings allowed the Bears to drive 66 yards on 10 plays in three minutes, five seconds as they scored the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds remaining. Prior to that drive, the Vikings settled for their third straight field goal from the red zone in the second half of the game. And even before that, it was the special teams giving up kick returns of 80 yards and 76 yards in the first half.
Sunday’s loss truly was a three-phase breakdown for Vikings and kept them from winning their first game at Chicago since 2007.
Each of the coordinators handled the inquiries differently.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said it wasn’t confusion among the players that led to Chicago’s final touchdown, despite a few players admitting there were miscommunication that the film appears to back. Williams said it was a matter of not executing what was called.
“Guys were playing the same defense, just not executing within the defense,” Williams said. “When you don’t do that, no matter where it is – front, back, in the middle, it’s tough to be successful in the NFL when you’re not executing the defense. That’s when you see breakdowns in the defense and yards being picked up, which you don’t want to see.”
On both of Martellus Bennett’s final two catches – a 23-yarder on first-and-20 and a 16-yard touchdown – there appeared to be confusion between the defenders.
On Monday, head coach Leslie Frazier said he could have managed the final drive better from a defensive standpoint and put players in a better position. Williams said he and Frazier discussed how to approach the final drive before the Vikings even kicked off to the Bears with 3:15 to play and a six-point lead.
Williams admitted there are times Frazier suggests defensive calls and there are other times that the suggestion is a little more forceful.
“Always suggesting. Last year suggestions, and sometimes it’s strongly suggesting and that’s fine,” Williams said. “Leslie has a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of experience playing and coaching, so when the head coach suggests or strongly suggests, the neat thing is that Leslie has given me the flexibility. When he suggests, it’s a suggestion; when he strongly suggests, it’s maybe not a suggestion. We worked together before so I know when he wants to make a call, hey, we make it. It was successful last year and it will be successful this year.”
The Vikings might not have had to be so concerned about Chicago’s ability to win the game on that final drive if they hadn’t settled for a field goal on Minnesota’s last drive.
Facing first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave called for an Adrian Peterson rush. It gained two yards. On second down, he called for a rollout by Christian Ponder with a pass to Kyle Rudolph. It sailed wide of the tight end for an incompletion. On third down, Musgrave returned to Peterson for a run that gained no yardage.
“The thinking was to get in the end zone, so our approach was to make sure to give us three good plays to give us a chance to come away with seven – at the very worst three,” Musgrave said. “It didn’t happen. We didn’t get in the end zone like we surely intended and we came away with three.
“We’re confident in all three calls. They didn’t work out as we had it planned.”
Meanwhile, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer took responsibility for the breakdowns the Vikings experienced in their kick coverage unit. Return man Devin Hester set a Bears franchise record with 249 yards on five kickoff returns.
“Terrible coaching on my part. Every time we played Hester that we’ve been successful against him, we’ve had some wrinkles in their return game. We’ve thrown off their blocking scheme, confused them a little bit. We had some in; they weren’t good enough,” Priefer said. “I’ve got to do a better job and we’ve got to cover better. We’ve got to keep guys on their feet. Obviously it was a slippery surface, but he was running on it, too. So absolutely no excuses. We did a poor job. I did a poor job and we’re going to be better next time we play them.”
Rhett Ellison didn’t practice Thursday because of a knee injury. Frazier didn’t sound optimistic that Ellison will play Sunday, but was holding out to see if the tight end could do anything Friday. Ellison has been used a good amount as a lead blocker in the backfield, and Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton has one more game to serve on his three-game suspension.
“It would be tough to go into a game without Jerome Felton and Rhett, both doing the fullback jobs that are part of our system,” Musgrave said. “We’re waiting and seeing on Rhett. When Zach (Line) is in there, he’s learning. He’s a converted halfback, as we know. So he’s learning on the job, but he’s putting out his best effort.”
Several Vikings remained limited in Thursday’s practice: DT Fred Evans (shoulder), LB Erin Henderson (heel), S Harrison Smith (shoulder), C John Sullivan (knee) and DT Kevin Williams (knee).
For the Browns, QB Brandon Weeden (thumb) and LB Quentin Groves (ankle) have already been ruled out. OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle) and DL Ahtyba Rubin (calf) were limited Thursday.
Musgrave said he is “relieved and excited” with the way the offensive line responded in Week 2 after a shaky start to the season against the Detroit Lions in Week 1.
Williams said he didn’t have to talk to his players about avoiding complacency after the 0-2 Browns decided they would start their No. 3 quarterback, Brian Hoyer, and traded away starting running back Trent Richardson.
“They know. I know our guys are mature enough and professional enough to not fall in the trap that maybe my boys at home looking at fantasy football and think: ‘Oh, Dad. You got em.’ No. Our guys are brighter and smarter than that,” Williams said.
Musgrave didn’t have to worry about the Browns’ changes on offense, but he opened his press conference Thursday with this: “Cleveland Browns. Who did they trade today? Did they trade the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame to Detroit for the Joe Louis Arena or something?”
The Browns signed free-agent running back Willis McGahee on Thursday after he passed his physical. He is expected to play against the Vikings Sunday.
Williams said he isn’t convinced Chad Greenway is trying to do too much himself with Erin Henderson taking over the full-time duties at middle linebacker next to Greenway.
“I read that. I’m not so sure I buy that,” Williams said. “I think Chad, that’s the type of guy he is – not compensating for Erin, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Chad is a guy that works hard, he plays hard. Sometimes he may out-think himself because he wants to be so good and he wants to work at his craft. I would attribute more to that than to maybe making up for Erin. Erin does a good job all by himself. Chad sometimes tries to do too much, but I’d rather have that than have a guy that’s not doing anything at all.”
Vikings safety/special teams man Andrew Sendejo signed a two-year contract extension with the Vikings. According to NFL.com, it is worth $2 million with $400,000 guaranteed and $600,000 in incentives.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.