EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings secondary was shorthanded, to say the least, in Sunday's upset of the Packers.
It's been a bit of a revolving door at cornerback, with Minnesota playing its seventh unique set of corners with the most snaps in as many games.
As Vikings.com's Craig Peters pointed out in this week's "Stats That Stood Out," seven rookies played for the Vikings defense, combining for 196 of 825 possible snaps (118 by cornerbacks).
Rookie Jeff Gladney played all 75 of Minnesota's defensive snaps. Classmate Cam Dantzler was injured on his 14th snap, and fifth-round pick Harrison Hand played 29. Second-year pro Kris Boyd played 57 snaps before leaving the game with an injury.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke with media members Monday and addressed the fact that the team "started out a little slow" against Green Bay before getting into a groove. The Vikings ultimately held Aaron Rodgers to 291 passing yards on a blustery afternoon at Lambeau Field.
"Some of the young guys were, I think they were just wanting to watch the Hall of Fame quarterback instead of watching their guy," Zimmer quipped. "But we played better in the second half, did a better job in the running game, which allowed us to do a little bit more in the passing game."
Zimmer was asked a follow-up question about the difficulty in coaching rookies on "eye discipline"; the term was mentioned by FOX analyst Daryl Johnston during Sunday's broadcast when Davante Adams scored a touchdown while being covered by Gladney.
Zimmer broke down the play:
"The first touchdown on Gladney: 17 (Adams) is a guy we're obviously paying a whole bunch of attention to. He's lined up on the outside shoulder of him. He's got Anthony Harris on the inside. The ball is snapped, [Adams] gives him a little shake, [Gladney] looks inside and then he gets beat to the outside, where that's where he should've been all the way. There's a lot of little things like that I'm trying so hard to get these young kids to understand not only about their position, but the guy they're playing against, where their help is, you know, it just makes it tough."
Zimmer said that eye discipline and avoiding contact with receivers after five yards are the "two toughest things" to work on with rookie cornerbacks.
"We talk about it all the time," he said. "It's just guys having enough discipline to, because sometimes they have to transfer their eyes, you know, it might go from a receiver that's blocking to crack the safety and he's got to transfer his eyes back after the crack, or it might be if he's playing off to transfer his eyes off the quarterback after a three-step drop and back to the receiver when it's a pass.
"That's probably what they're having the hardest time with right now," Zimmer added. "They never transfer their eyes back to the receiver and get back into the position they should be in."
Here are four other topics covered by Zimmer during his media availability:
1. Update on Dantzler
Speaking of rookie cornerbacks, Zimmer provided a positive update on Dantzler, who suffered a neck injury on the final play of the first quarter. He was evaluated for a concussion and examined at a nearby hospital before traveling home with the team Sunday evening.
"He's doing well. He's got a chance to play this week," Zimmer said of Dantzler.
"Cam's a great kid. He's had a bunch of things happen this year. But he's a great kid," he later added. "He's very humble, very respectful, tries real hard and is a smart guy. We all were concerned. It looks like he's going to be just fine."
2. A(nother) big day for Kendricks
It seemed wherever you looked when Minnesota's defense was on the field Sunday, Eric Kendricks was in the frame making a play.
The linebacker played a major role in the Vikings ability to out-duel the Packers.
Zimmer pointed out that Kendricks makes several big plays every week and pinpointed a few from Sunday's outing.
"Early in the game, they ran a bootleg where they took the tight end and flashed, came back across the formation. That was Eric's guy. He missed it. But it ended up being like a 5-yard gain. The next time they ran that play, he covered him like a glove, so they had to throw it to someone else," Zimmer said. "The throw down the middle to Davante Adams, being able to get down the field on that one. And then there was another play where they threw the screen out there. We had pressure called. Eric Wilson pressured and Eric [Kendricks] is very smart, he anticipates things well and he sees things.
"That's kind of what I'm trying to get these DBs to understand," Zimmer added. "They have to anticipate some things once in a while. It can't be paint by the numbers every single day."
3. And kudos to the other guys
Kendricks has helped in a big way for a Minnesota defense that not only is young but has been depleted by injuries.
The Vikings are without Pro Bowlers Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter, both of whom are on Injured Reserve, as well their free-agent signee Michael Pierce, who opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As well as Kendricks has played, Zimmer reminded not to forget about the team's other key pieces on defense.
"I'll say this. Eric is a terrific player, great kid, loves playing the game, and it's important that we have him," Zimmer said. "But, you know, Shamar Stephen and the two safeties, Anthony Harris and Harrison [Smith], they're a big part of trying to help these young guys in there, as well. And even Eric Wilson, whose been playing a lot now, he's starting to be more like Kendricks. Those two are getting more on the same page.
"Kendricks is a really good player. But these other guys are trying to help, too," Zimmer continued. "And our defensive line helped him a lot yesterday in the running game. They did a nice job. I thought our defensive line played well yesterday."
View photos of the Vikings in "Big Head Mode" following the 28-22 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field.
4. Managing The Chef's plate
Dalvin Cook had a historic day at Green Bay, becoming just the third Viking (Chuck Foreman and Ahmad Rashad) to score four touchdowns in a game.
Perhaps what made the performance even more impressive was the fact that it occurred following time missed with a groin injury.
After Cook sat out of the Vikings Week 6 loss to the Falcons and further recovered during the bye, he played a season-high 88 percent of Minnesota's offensive snaps.
Zimmer was asked about Cook's workload.
"He played an awful lot yesterday," Zimmer acknowledged. "But he felt great. And it seemed like every time he was in there, we were moving the ball really well. So part of that is with him being in there, the defense expecting some of the runs, so some of the other things opened up. But, yeah, we're going to have to ride this guy. He's a good player.
'It's not that we don't have confidence in Alexander Mattison, because we do," he added. "He had some good runs. He just didn't have a lot of opportunities yesterday. So each week will be a little bit different. We'll see how it goes this next week as we get ready for the Lions."
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