By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Some would say it is the worst. Statistically, the unit ranks 28th (four teams allow more yards per game, including Sunday’s opponent), but has had trouble with the opposition at key moments of the game.
The Vikings, already without top safety Harrison Smith, lost starting cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford to a hip strain and groin strain, respectively. Both injuries occurred during the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“With defensive backs, when you have muscle issues, it’s always a concern,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “So I’m hoping, because we need them … that they’ll get through this.”
The Vikings will turn to rookie Xavier Rhodes to fill in for Cook and Mistral Raymond to fill in for Sanford, if they are unable to play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
“With the injuries, it’s the game of football,” Rhodes said. “It’s going to happen. It’s all about the backups. They have to step up and play their part and play right and know what they have to do to get on the field.”
The Cowboys enter Sunday with the eighth ranked passing offense in the NFL with quarterback Tony Romo tossing to wide receivers Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams and tight end Jason Witten.
The injuries will limit the options and changes the Vikings can make against the Cowboys. Frazier was asked this week if his team had become too predictable on defense. Most teams in the NFL use more exotic schemes that move players around to confuse the opposing quarterback.
“Well, in some cases we are getting predictable,” Frazier said. “But in other cases, I think we need to execute a little bit better. Part of that is guys learning what we’re asking them to do. The lack of experience sometimes shows up. We have some things like three down (linemen) in our package, but we haven’t used it as much.”
If Cook and Sanford are unable to play Sunday, it would the first time the team will not have three of their four opening day starting defensive backs. Both players missed the Week 4 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers with different injuries.
“It’s a little scary when you start getting into your depth this early in the season,” Frazier said.
The Vikings may need to sign another reinforcement with four safeties on the roster and possibly only three will be available for Sunday’s game.
The complete injury report:
The Vikings listed running back Matt Asiata (shoulder), Cook (hip), tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) and Sanford (groin) as non-participants in Thursday’s practice.
Defensive tackle (Fred Evans), wide receiver Greg Jennings (knee) and offensive tackle Phil Loadholt (illness) were listed as limited participants in Thursday’s practice.
Linebacker Chad Greenway (wrist), cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle), wide receiver Rodney Smith (hip), kicker Blair Walsh (left hamstring) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee) were all listed as full participants in Thursday’s practice.
For more Vikings news and updates, visit Vikings Central.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.