EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A day after the Carolina Panthers became the fourth team in five games to hang at least 30 points on the Minnesota Vikings, coach Leslie Frazier absolved cornerback Josh Robinson, at least partially, of the blame for Brandon LaFell's 79-yard touchdown early in the third quarter of Sunday's game. What happened on the play might point more to the Vikings' overall issues with a young secondary than it does to Robinson, who has certainly had plenty of problems this season.
On the third-and-3 play, Robinson is lined up over LaFell in the slot, but drops into an intermediate zone, letting LaFell run by him as Xavier Rhodes matches Ted Ginn's post route. Rhodes follows Ginn to safety Jamarca Sanford, while no one is covering LaFell on the outside.
Here's one theory on the play: It's interesting that Frazier said Robinson "didn't give up any big plays" and added "I wouldn't put it all on Josh" on the 79-yard touchdown. That would suggest that Rhodes might have needed to stay in a zone, rather than following Ginn to Sanford. Robinson said on Sunday the Vikings had man coverage called on the play, but added he needed to drop deeper. If it was man coverage, and Robinson had LaFell, it would be fairly easy to put Robinson at fault for the play. But Frazier said on Sunday the Vikings were in a zone. Both Rhodes and right cornerback Chris Cook turn their hips toward the sideline, indicating they might have had responsibilities for deep thirds of the field with Sanford, while Robinson and Harrison Smith were stationed closer to the line of scrimmage to help with run support.
For his part, Rhodes called the play a communication breakdown, though he wouldn't expand on what went wrong. If that's the case, though, it's another instance of what the Vikings have been facing all season with their secondary, and will likely continue to face as they go through the season without veteran secondary help.
"Each time you guys would ask me back in the summer about our young secondary, I was pretty consistent (in saying) they were going to be young, there were going to be some things we would have to go through as they were developing," Frazier said. "If you are a rookie in the National Football League, or it's your first time playing the nickel back position in our defense, there are going to be some challenges, but they are going to get better."
Rhodes said the ankle injury he sustained Sunday was a minor sprain, and didn't think it would hold him back this week as the Vikings prepare for the New York Giants. What remains to be seen is how limited safety Harrison Smith, who has turf toe, will be limited in the weeks to come.