Leslie Frazier has been here before. His defense is struggling, especially in the back end and especially in two-minute situations and on third down. The defensive ineptitude has reached near-2011 proportions at times, and Frazier is responding much like he did in 2011.
Those who remember 2011 can easily see the parallels. That squad basically mutinied against then-defensive coordinator Fred Pagac; at one point the players reportedly started ignoring Pagac’s playcalls entirely. Another mutiny could be in the offing after the defense’s latest meltdown.
The Vikings’ struggling D got things together a little bit on Sunday against Dallas, mostly thanks to an energized pass rush led by Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. But a small improvement wasn’t enough to help the Vikings overcome the Cowboys and Tony Romo. The Vikes were unable to stop Romo and the Cowboys in the two minute drill at the end of the fourth, and Alan Williams could only watch helplessly as the unit he runs coughed up the game.
After the loss certain Viking veterans, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison most notably, questioned the defensive playcalling on that final Dallas drive. Williams and Robison were most bothered by the decision to rush three against Romo, dropping one lineman into coverage. The three-man-rush approach seemed even more dubious given the Vikings’ success all day at pressuring the passer.
“We’d just like to get a four-man rush,” a frustrated Kevin Williams said after the game. “Release the big guys, let them push the pocket. We did it all day, and then we just start dropping a guy the last drive on the line. I can say from that standpoint, it’s kind of terrible when you’re trying to stop them. I know they went empty [backfield], trying to throw it quick and all, but if we make them hold it one second, we can probably get there.”
Two years ago, when the defense really started going downhill and veteran players started griping about the playcalling, Leslie Frazier felt he had no choice but to take the reins from Fred Pagac. By season’s end Frazier was essentially doing Pagac’s job, and after the season Pagac was officially demoted to linebackers coach while the Vikes searched for a new defensive coordinator.
Enter Alan Williams, late of the Indianapolis Colts. Williams was hired in 2012 to help shore up the Vikings’ defensive backfield – he was the DBs coach in Indy – and bring a fresh, creative approach to the defense overall. Under Williams’ direction, the Vikings 2012 defense showed great improvement, and there was tons of optimism going into 2013.
But all that optimism has evaporated in the face of an infuriating defensive meltdown. The Vikes’ D finds itself at the bottom of the heap statistically, and Alan Williams is getting much of the heat, from inside the locker room as well as outside. Leslie Frazier appears to be responding the same way he did in 2011 – by gently nudging his coordinator aside and taking on more of the responsibility for running the defense.
There have been rumblings going all the way back the Bears loss, when Frazier expressed regret at not becoming more involved in the playcalling late in the game. Ahead of the Dallas game Frazier said he “needed to make sure the coaches felt my presence, and the players as well, from a defensive standpoint.” Frazier stopped short of taking over playcalling duties from Alan Williams, but said he would be “more vocal about making playcalling suggestions.”
Whether Williams was making the playcalls on that final drive vs. Dallas, or in fact ceded those duties to the head coach, seems almost immaterial now. Either way the Vikings failed to stop the Cowboys and the game was lost. And now Williams and Frazier are both facing backlash from their players over the defensive approach.
If things keep following their decidedly 2011-like course, Frazier may soon take over the defense and demote Alan Williams to de facto assistant defensive coordinator. Frazier’s self-promotion to defensive playcaller didn’t save the Vikings in 2011 and it’s unlikely that a similar move would save them in 2013.
At 1-7, the Vikings’ season is all-but-lost. All Frazier can hope to do is salvage his own job, and in light of such a dire proposition you can’t blame Frazier for wanting to take as much control as possible. But the fact is that playcalling is only part of the Vikings’ problem. Personnel is a much bigger issue right now, especially in the secondary and linebacker corps.
Blame Frazier and Williams all you want, but the truth is that they were dealt a bad hand to begin with. The Vikings entered the season undermanned at multiple defensive positions and those issues are now rearing their ugly head. Rick Spielman can fire Frazier and Williams after the season if he wants – and he probably will fire both of them – but the defense won’t get better until the personnel is upgraded.
Coaches can’t make the tackles or defend the passes. It’s not Alan Williams out there biting on play fakes or taking bad angles. It’s not Leslie Frazier getting torched in coverage. Bad players make bad plays, and the Vikings right now have too many bad players on defense.