Vikings' defense struggling on third downs

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- So far this season, it seems the Vikings' biggest defensive issues -- a leaky secondary, missed tackles, a pass rush that hasn't been as disruptive as it usually is -- have come to a head on third downs. Opponents are converting 47.3 percent of their third downs against the Vikings, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and only two teams (the 0-5 New York Giants and the 1-4 Atlanta Falcons) have been worse at getting off the field.

The Vikings' pass defense has certainly been part of the issue; opponents are picking up a first down 41.7 percent of the time on third-and-7 or longer, and only the Falcons have been worse in those situations. But Minnesota also hasn't been good at putting offenses in lower-percentage situations on third down; they've had opponents needing seven yards or more just 24 times, while opponents have been in third-and-6 or shorter 31 times.

In those situations, the Vikings are giving up a first down 51.6 percent of the time, which is 23rd in the league.

"I think people just look at third down," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "We have to be better on first and second down so we can put teams in those third-and-long situations. When we get them in those situations, really it just comes down to executing better."

Williams pointed to many of the Vikings' obvious issues, like trouble defending screen passes and a need to finish sacks. But he continued to stand by slot cornerback Josh Robinson, who has been a target of fans' ire about as much as quarterbacks have gone after him. Robinson has given up 35 catches on 38 targets this year, according to Pro Football Focus. Though he's playing in the Vikings' base defense, he's had many of his struggles when he moves inside in the nickel defense.

"Way back in OTAs and camp, we knew that Josh had never played inside before. I think people think the nickel spot is just a [place] where you put your third corner," Williams said. "But really that's where you put one of your best corners. You have to have a large skill set. You're covering some of the best wide receivers that people have. They're quick. You're also fitting up in the run like a linebacker or safety so that position coms with a huge learning curve that as we see Josh is learning day by day, game by game. And he is improving. Each week he's improving. It's just going to take time."