MINNEAPOLIS -- Those harboring some anxiety about the Vikings' secondary probably were doing so before Sunday, when the team lost three defensive backs to injury and gave up 321 passing yards to an offense with a third-string quarterback and no discernible running game. The Vikings had given up 641 passing yards in their first two games, losing to Chicago last week after a breakdown in the game's final seconds.
But after the Vikings' 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns in their home opener on Sunday, their issues stopping the pass are out in the open. There can be no hiding them, not after Brian Hoyer torched the Vikings for 321 yards and rebounded from two second-half interceptions to lead another game-winning drive, and not after Chris Cook, Jamarca Sanford and A.J. Jefferson left the game because of injuries.
The Vikings have forced 10 turnovers in three games (no small feat for a defense that ranked 22nd in takeaways last season), but so far, the team's decision to gamble on young defensive backs appears to be backfiring. And now, Cook is nursing a groin injury for the second time in a month. Sanford has a strained hamstring, and Jefferson (who was burned for a 47-yard touchdown after Cook left the game) sprained his ankle. Coach Leslie Frazier didn't know the severity of the injuries on Sunday, but didn't sound optimistic that he'd be traveling to London with a full complement of defensive backs for next Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"You don’t want to start getting into your depth this early in the season and losing Jamarca and Chris and potentially A.J. That’s a concern," Frazier said. "We’ll have to see how they progress over the course of the week and just means that other guys will have to step up and play well for us."
By the end of the game on Sunday, the Vikings were using Marcus Sherels in their base defense at right cornerback, with Josh Robinson staying on the left side. First-round pick Xavier Rhodes stayed only in the team's nickel defense, Frazier said, because the Vikings wanted to keep him at the left cornerback spot there and not overload him with responsibilities.
Depending on how many healthy cornerbacks the Vikings have for this week's game, though, their plans could change quickly. They hadn't made strong overtures to retired cornerback Antoine Winfield, and it's unknown if the team would have interest in bringing the 36-year-old back. But Winfield was unquestionably the Vikings' best cornerback last year, and his absence has been noticeable early this season as the Vikings try to figure out how to play without him.
The rash of injuries they sustained on Sunday likely won't help them turn things around.
"Defense is what needs to go out there and make plays," Sanford said. "The last couple of weeks we have come up short. We just need to continue to keep working and not complain because it won’t make a difference. We just need to keep working and stay together."