EAGAN, Minn. — The priority during the bye week for Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and his staff was not difficult to discern.
Pass defense that has uncharacteristically been a problem in several recent games needed some work.
“We spent a lot of time with it,” said Zimmer, who directed some “re-teaching” of techniques and responsibilities in practice and meetings this week with the defensive players after they returned from their break.
Improvement will be of immediate importance with the impending road trip to face Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. The eighth-year quarterback, who has already won a Super Bowl and been picked for Pro Bowls, has put together a next-level season. He’s tied for the NFL lead with 24 touchdown passes, with only three interceptions, and with three additional rushing scores has maintained his status as one of the league’s most dangerous dual threats.
“He moves really well. We can’t just rush and stop and peak. We have to rush,” Zimmer said. “We have to be disciplined in our rush lanes and be where we’re supposed to be, because he’ll go up, he’ll go back, he’ll go out, he’ll go left, he’ll go right. He goes all the different places.”
The Vikings (8-3) are all too well aware of this. They’ve never beaten Wilson in five matchups in either the regular season or the playoffs, and the last two games provided particular evidence of his winning traits.
In their infamous division round defeat at home four years ago, the Vikings used the subzero temperature to their advantage to hold the Seahawks scoreless until early in the fourth quarter. Wilson had a shotgun snap sail over his head, but instead of taking the safe recovery and the loss at his own 45, he scrambled away from a wave of defenders and made an on-the-run throw to Tyler Lockett for a 35-yard gain to set up a touchdown to bring the Seahawks within two points.
Last season in Seattle, the Vikings limited Wilson to a career-low 72 passing yards. The Seahawks had only three points in the first three quarters. With the ball and a 6-0 lead with less than five minutes left in their own territory, Wilson evaded a would-be sack by three Vikings rushers in his immediate vicinity and turned it loose for a 40-yard gain up the left sideline to set up their first touchdown and essentially put the game out of reach.
“There’s a good chance he’s going to give the receivers like 13 seconds. He’s going to run around. He might run 30 yards down field backward, if he can find someone open. You never know,” Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “He’s going to eventually do something to get his team in the best situation.”
Rhodes, the two-time Pro Bowl pick who is tied for the third-most defensive penalties in the NFL with seven, has been as vulnerable as anyone in the secondary in coverage lately for the Vikings, who have fallen to 20th in the league in passing yards allowed.
“Our biggest thing is just finishing the coverage. We’re there. You watch film. You watch our games. We’re in coverage. We’re just not finishing. We’re not breaking up the ball, not picking the ball off,” Rhodes said. “We could be there with the ball in the air. We miss the ball in the air, and the receiver is catching it, or we tip the ball, and the receiver still ends up catching it. It’s stuff like that.”