Wide Left: Vikings linebackers, secondary are still serious units

Blair Anderson, a superfan with a platform, opines on what matters most
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Harrison Smith

Wide Left is written by Vikings superfan Blair Anderson, who convinced Bring Me The News that it was a good idea to give him a platform to unleash his emotions. It feels like a good idea now, but honestly, we're a little worried about what will happen once the Vikings lose a few games.

Read Blair Anderson's preview of the defensive line right here. Up next...

Linebackers

The linebackers were another part of the Vikings’ that just didn’t seem to be right last year. Anthony Barr didn’t get paid right away and that torpedoed his season, and Eric Kendricks got the bag and didn’t look like himself through much of the year. However, both could be on the path to rebound seasons.

Barr pulled off a return storyline that WWE would be proud of as he just about signed a deal with the New York Jets. Right when he was about to put his signature to paper, Barr went thumbs down to Adam Gase and Batista Bombed him through a table (metaphorically) before re-signing with the Vikings.

A lot of people believe that Barr had a bad year in 2018, but a lot of those opinions hinge on a two-game stretch where Josh Allen leapfrogged over him and Barr got stuck on Robert Woods and Todd Gurley to allow two touchdowns in another gut-wrenching loss. In reality, Barr owned the second lowest yards allowed per coverage snap at 0.59 and didn’t allow a touchdown the rest of the season.

Where Barr really turns it up is in pass-rushing (ask Aaron Rodgers). Barr was first among linebackers in Pro Football Focus's pass-rushing productivity ranking at 13.8 and was fifth among linebackers with 19 hurries and 23 pressures. The problem here is that the Vikings don’t rush Barr enough as he was just 13th among linebackers in pass-rushing attempts.

Maybe the Rodgers restraining order is actually a thing (see previous blog), but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let Barr do more of this stuff if the numbers are that good.

Kendricks also took an entire step back last season, especially in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks posted a 104.7 passer rating when targeting Kendricks, and his run-stop percentage was just 6.4 percent — 61st among linebackers. 

A lot of that could have been the drop-off in defensive line play, but hey, Kendricks has got to pick it up in order for this defense to go.

For the rest of the linebackers, Ben Gedeon is the third starting linebacker, but the Vikings play so much nickel, he’s just kind of there. He doesn’t suck, but he’s not someone that will make you pump your fist in victory. He just shows up and does his job. The Vikings would like something more as they drafted Cameron Smith out of USC to try and dethrone him.

With others such as Eric Wilson on the roster, it will be interesting if someone can step up and be a little more splashy.

Cornerbacks

This part of the defense is a complete mess and got even worse over the past couple of weeks. First, Holton Hill was suspended for PED’s in March and then the NFL suspended him another four games earlier this month – probably because they wanted to drive the point home for being a dumbass. 

When Zimmer was asked about this situation, he said that “disappointed is not the right word” to use to describe his feelings. Two words that are would be pissed off as I'm guessing he won’t make the team.

Things got worse when the Vikings reported to camp as Zimmer revealed that Mike Hughes not only tore his ACL last season, but also tore other ligaments. In other words, Hughes knee completely exploded rather than the minor explosion we all though it was. 

Anyways, Hughes might not be ready for the start of the regular season and that’s going to be an issue considering Hill decided to screw up.

All of this had a domino effect on the Vikings’ offseason plans as I’m sure they would have loved to have traded Trae Waynes for a pick, but couldn’t because their secondary depth was completely screwed. Waynes is good but not great and if Hughes can rebound from his injury quicker than expected, he could make a point to take Waynes job next season.

There’s also Xavier Rhodes, who’s overall stats don’t look so bad, but after getting burned repeatedly and screaming “I’M COMING, LORETTA!!!” While looking to the sky before going out of the game, but being fine the next week, the Vikings are likely hoping the 2017 version returns.

Finally, there’s Mackensie Alexander who turned things around in a big way after the first four games and looks to be the team’s long-term answer at slot corner. If he continues to play like he did last year, there’s a good chance the Vikings will have one answer in the secondary.

Safeties

On the back end of the defense are Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith. Their names are similar, but they bring a couple of different things to the defense.

Smith is a bad ass that can get the job done in coverage, but his specialty is lighting up anyone who dares try to step into the box. Smith was first among safeties in tackling efficiency last year with 21.5 attempts per missed tackle and seventh in pass rusher productivity rating.

While Smith brings the pain, Harris can cover just about everything as quarterbacks accumulated a 24.0 rating when he was targeted last year. He can also lay a hit as Harris was second to Smith in tackling efficiency last year.

Jayron Kearse also returns as a safety after having the life scared out of him when the Vikings brought in George Iloka late last preseason. With competition right behind him, Kearse put forth a strong season and his tackling spawned a report that the Vikings might use him more at linebacker this season. Kearse denied that immediately, but perhaps Zimmer might want to put him on the field as opposed to mainly using him on special teams.

Behind all of that is the fourth safety spot, which will be one of the best battles in camp. Marcus Epps was so unknown he didn’t even have a MockDraftable profile, but has a nose for the ball that creates big plays. He’ll be the favorite while Derron Smith and Isaiah Wharton will battle behind him.

Conclusion

The Vikings defense doesn’t have much to make fun of because they’re still a serious unit. Even though there are a couple of guys getting up there in age, the defense should have enough in the tank to get back to where they were a couple of years ago.

If not, Mike Zimmer is going to run these boys into the ground and the Vikings’ season may go in the same direction.

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