Vikings player blames ‘freestyling’ for team’s defensive struggles in 2021

(Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) Sheldon Richardson
(Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) Sheldon Richardson /

Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson didn’t hold anything back when recently talking about the struggles of the team’s defense this season.

After a 2020 season in which the Minnesota Vikings struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball, there were hopes that some new additions to the roster would help the team’s defense get back on track this year.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for the Vikings this season.

13 games into the 2021 campaign, Minnesota ranks 25th in points allowed, 29th in yards allowed, 22nd in net yards allowed per pass attempt, and 31st in rushing yards allowed per carry. The struggles of the defense are a big reason why many want the Vikings to move on from Mike Zimmer after the season.

Sheldon Richardson explains why the Minnesota Vikings defense has struggled in 2021

During the first six years of Zimmer’s tenure in Minnesota, the team was typically among the NFL’s best on the defensive side of the ball. But in the last two seasons, the Vikings have had to rely more on younger players and guys who haven’t had much experience in Zimmer’s scheme.

Recently, Minnesota defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was asked by’s Gabe Henderson to reflect on some of the things that have happened so far this season. Richardson didn’t hold back when talking about some of the problems Minnesota’s defense has encountered this year.

"“Zim is a tough coach. [He has a] great defensive scheme. Now whether we execute it or not? That’s a different question and he’s going to let us hear about it. But the little things [and] attention to detail in his defense is what it is. That’s where most cats get away from it because they see guys freestyling [and they’re like] ‘oh but, Aaron Donald rushed like this or this cat cover like this,’ and I’m like ‘yeah, you’re not none of them.'”"

What Richardson said makes a ton of sense. During the last two seasons, the Vikings have replaced longtime contributors like Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Anthony Harris with guys who are still new to Zimmer’s defensive scheme like Dalvin Tomlinson, Michael Pierce, Bashaud Breeland, Cameron Dantzler, and Xavier Woods.

There’s a reason why the Vikings typically did not like to have young defensive players on the field during their first or second years with the team. Zimmer’s scheme takes time to learn and perfect, but the luxury of time is something that has been taken away from him during the last two seasons.

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Would things be different for Minnesota if they had decided to keep guys like Joseph, Rhodes, and Waynes around? Who knows, but one would like to think things wouldn’t have gotten as bad as they have for the defense in the last two years.