For anyone that has been watching the Vikings defense with a careful eye, surely you've noticed the drop in play by our linebackers compared to the last few seasons. In fact, we have two new starters at linebacker: Erin Henderson shifting full-time to MLB and Marvin Mitchell at WLB. We find ourselves in the situation we are in, mainly because the Vikings front office hasn't addressed the linebacker corp with anything more than a 4th round pick since Chad Greenway was drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft. And our picks in the 4th and 5th rounds since Greenway have been: Gerald Hodges (2013), Nate Triplett (2010) and Jasper Brinkley (2009)...that's it. Every other pick has either been 6th or 7th rounders that haven't lasted more than a year or two on the squad. Our only notable free agent signings since Greenway was drafted was Ben Leber and now Desmond Bishop. In other words we haven't been very good at drafting linebackers recently as Hodges is an unproven rookie who has been inactive the first 2 weeks of the year, Triplett didn't even make the team in 2010, and Jasper Brinkely was allowed to walk as a free agent to assume a backup role with the Arizona Cardinals this past offseason.
Our linebackers simply need to play better. Chad Greenway addressed the linebacker play recently, as Ben Goessling over at ESPN spelled out:
Greenway talked about some of the issues after practice, and while he said he missed three open-field tackles on Sunday -- "When they're in space and you're one-on-one with guys, it's a tackle you've got to make," he said -- he added the knee surgery he had in June isn't an issue, and said no one can make a definitive statement about how well the linebackers are playing if they're not privy to the Vikings' game plan.
"A lot of times, it's easy to pick apart what's out in the open or what everybody can see," Greenway said. "But it's the things that happen that people don't understand that can't be graded or can't be said, 'Hey, he's doing good or doing bad,' because the reality is, you guys don't have really any idea, what's being taught or what's being coached in that room. Without getting into the details of it, I'm just going to answer questions like this, and you guys are going to wonder what the real answer is. You're not going to get it."
As the article mentions later on, it sounds like there are potentially some miscommunication problems going on with the linebackers, and if Pro Football Focus is correct in their analysis, it could be more of an entire defense problem. PFF spelled out very clearly the issues with miscommunication of the final TD play to TE Martellus Bennett at Chicago last week. But that didn't stop Erin Henderson from publicly questioning the play call from defensive coordinator Alan Williams. Speaking of Pro Football Focus, through the first 2 weeks of the season, they have graded all three starting linebackers for the Vikings in "the red". Henderson is ranked as the 34th best ILB out of a possible 38, while Marvin Mitchell is ranked 31st out of 35. Chad Greenway? He's dead last, likely because he's trying to do too much on defense to cover up poor play from those around him. As evidenced by his comments above, he clearly doesn't think very highly of outside entities grading his play, but the bottom line is, the Vikings linebackers have been dreadful through the first 2 weeks of the season.
There's no quick fix for this situation, although there is Desmond Bishop. Leslie Frazier seems committed to getting Bishop more playing time, although that's not saying much as he's literally seen only 2 snaps so far this season. And according to Pro Football Focus, Bishop hasn't been too effective with those 2 snaps either, garnering a -1.0 rating. For anyone that noticed, it was Bishop who missed a tackle on Matt Forte in the backfield at the goal line mid-way through the 2nd quarter. Chicago had a first and 10 at the Minnesota 11 yard line, and had Bishop made that tackle for loss, it would have backed up the Bears on 2nd down. Instead, Smith had to play clean-up duty and Forte got 8 yards on the play, setting up a 2nd and 2 at the Minnesota 3 yard line. The Bears picked up the first down on the very next play, and thankfully for Bishop, Cutler's pass on the subsequent play was tipped and Kevin Williams came down with the interception. But that was a tackle that he should have made.
I don't know what the answer is for the Minnesota Vikings linebackers. Maybe it's better communication. Maybe it's better execution, or better play-calling. Perhaps it's a little bit of everything. Or maybe, Desmond Bishop will provide us a spark if he can ever earn the trust of his coaches to see the playing field.