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Mixed signals? Vikings’ defense showing signs of turmoil

The SportsXchange

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings are 0-2 after a 31-30 last-minute loss at Chicago on Sunday, but of greater concern going forward is an obvious disconnect between the defensive players, coordinator Alan Williams and coach Leslie Frazier.

The team is heading into a three-game stretch that could right its season with a home opener against the 0-2 Cleveland Browns, a trip to London to play a battered Pittsburgh Steelers team and another home game against an 0-2 Carolina Panthers team after a bye week. But assuming victory in any of those games is risky if the communication on defense does not improve in key situations.

The Vikings played fairly well on defense for most of Sunday's game. They forced four turnovers that led to 13 points, including a 61-yard fumble return for a touchdown by end Brian Robison.

However, the Vikings fell apart defensively while leading 30-24 with 3:08 left and the Bears 66 yards away from the end zone. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler moved the Bears down the field on the strength of two major busts that were the result of bad calls and/or poor execution.

The first was a 23-yard pass to tight end Martellus Bennett on a crossing route in which middle linebacker Erin Henderson was playing zone and outside linebacker Chad Greenway was playing man. The miscommunication resulted in Bennett being wide open with nobody in front of him.

The second blown coverage came on the game-winning touchdown, a 16-yarder to Bennett with 10 seconds left. With the Bears lined up with two receivers to either side, the Vikings had four defensive backs to one side and only cornerback Chris Cook on the side with Martellus Bennett and receiver Earl Bennett. Cook motioned for safety Harrison Smith to move over before the snap, but he didn't. The other safety, Jamarca Sanford, was showing blitz before dropping to the other side.

Cook was so angry after the game that he wouldn't talk to reporters.

Several players questioned Williams' play call off the record. Henderson went on the record.

"Just not what we expected, the call, in that situation," Henderson said. "Not really something that we prepared for or practiced for ... in that situation. Even if (Williams) put us in a bad situation where he made a bad call, it's still on us to go out there and make him right."

Williams said he thought the Vikings had a good called dialed up and that he would "have to look at the film to see if bodies were lined up in the right place."

Coach Leslie Frazier came out after the game and blamed himself, saying he should have done a better job managing critical situations like that. After watching the film Monday, Frazier said it was an execution problem. He also refuted Henderson's claim that the Vikings hadn't prepared for that situation.

Frazier also tried to accept the blame again and repeated his belief that he needs to manage those situations better. That, he said, does not mean he will take Williams' play-called duties away in the closing minutes of close games.

"Our defense was well prepared," Frazier said. "They did a great job to do the things they did to allow us to be where we were in that ballgame. So no, I don't foresee a situation like that. Alan and our defensive staff, they've done a very good job. They did a good job a season ago and they're doing a good job now."

This issue may be forgotten if the Vikings win on Sunday and come out of the first five games at 2-3 or better. If not, the disconnect on defense that was apparent on Sunday could be remembered as one of the first signs of the problems that brought down a season.

--FB Rhett Ellison (knee) suffered a hyperextension and is the only player on the roster in danger of not being able to practice on Wednesday.

--C John Sullivan (calf) suffered a bruise but should be fine. He has had a history of calf strains, so the Vikings were relieved that he only has a bruise.
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