GREEN BAY – A Minnesota Vikings’ defense that has fought the good fight for 3½ months finally caved Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium and the result was a 34-6 pasting by the Indianapolis Colts.
As limited as their injury-decimated offense has been, the Vikings will need a supreme defensive effort Saturday at Lambeau Field in order to sweep the Green Bay Packers for the first time since 2009 when Brett Favre was wearing a purple uniform.
“Before last week I would have said the Vikings would have beat Green Bay,” an executive in personnel for an NFC team said Tuesday. “After the Indy game I don’t think the Vikings can beat anyone the way they looked.”
For the third time in the last four games the Vikings didn’t record a takeaway against Indianapolis. In a 5-0 start, the Vikings turned the ball over just once compared to 12 giveaways over the last nine games (2-7). A turnover differential of plus-11 after five games is now plus-9.
Having led the NFL in scoring defense for much of the season, the Vikings now find themselves No. 6. Not only did the Colts score the fourth-most points against Minnesota’s defense in three seasons under Zimmer, they gained more yards (411) than the Vikings have allowed all year.
“They’re still a good defense,” another NFL personnel man said. “But a good defense can only hold up so long when you have to carry that much weight. I hate to judge it on one game but that felt like a mojo is gone type game.
“Twenty-seven to nothing (at halftime) against the Colts. Really? I’ve got Green Bay, 21-10.”
On both Sunday and Monday, Zimmer decried a performance by the defense he described as “lethargic.”
“I want to find the guys that are going to fight,” Zimmer said Sunday. “So, if they’re not going to fight, they’re going to get their butt out. That was not a fighting performance.”
After losing his first three meetings against Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, Zimmer beat the Packers, 20-13, in the NFC North de facto championship game Jan. 3 at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings were a three-point underdog in that game and a two-point underdog Sept. 18 when they beat the Packers, 17-14. Green Bay is favored by 6½ this time.
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Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who missed the first meeting with a knee injury, will resume his rivalry against Jordy Nelson. Cornerback Trae Waynes, the Kenosha product whose interception with 2 minutes left sealed the victory, is iffy with a concussion.
“Rhodes is more physical and intimidating (than Waynes),” one scout said. “He shut down Odell Beckham, (Dez) Bryant, then he’ll get beat by some lower guy.
“Waynes is probably their best cover guy, especially against speed (receivers). He needs to get stronger but he can run with anyone.”
For the second time in three games the Packers probably will play an opponent missing an elite safety. Seattle didn’t have Earl Thomas (leg) and the Vikings probably won’t have free safety Harrison Smith, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury.
“Harrison Smith is a glue guy,” said one scout. “He allows other guys to make plays. I’m sure they’ve had to scale back some of their complexity when he’s not in. He allows them to do so much.”
Anthony Harris, 6 feet ½ inch and 192 pounds, is a second-year free agent from Virginia and has been starting for Smith. He runs in the mid-4.6s.
“He’s OK, just not very strong,” one scout said. “Smart kid, not very talented. He’s usually in the right place, just not against Indy.”
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson, the Vikings’ most productive rusher (one sack, 3½ knockdowns) in the first Green Bay game, suffered a season-ending hamstring injury Sunday. According to Sportradar, his 31 pressures ranked third on the team behind Everson Griffen (42) and Danielle Hunter (40).
“That hurts them,” said one scout. “He’s very underrated. Now they don’t have anybody with juice inside.”
Linval Joseph is a premier nose tackle with pocket-collapsing capability but Shamar Stephen, the other starter inside, is a run-stuffer only.
Sharrif Floyd, the starting 3-technique next to Joseph in 2014-’15, played 25 snaps in the opener before departing with a balky knee. Figuring Floyd would return, the Vikings waited until Dec. 12 before sticking him on injured reserve.
Defensive end Brian Robison, who ranks fourth in pressures with 28, slides inside on passing downs in Zimmer’s single-high safety, Double A-gap blitz scheme.
“Everybody runs the Double A-gap scheme but in my mind this guy is the master of it,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said before playing the Vikings in October. “It’s his baby. They run every kind of combination there is known to man.
“They know what teams have done to try to counter it. So they try to counter that and it’s just a cat-and-mouse game that you play.”
The Vikings had no sacks and Johnson had one of their meager total of two quarterback hits against a Colts’ offensive line that had three rookie starters.
Tackles Matt Kalil (hip) and Andre Smith (elbow) are on injured reserve after playing all 58 offensive snaps against Green Bay. Right guard Brandon Fusco (concussion) probably will sit out a second straight game.
From left to right, the Vikings expect to start T.J. Clemmings, Alex Boone, Nick Easton, Joe Berger and Jeremiah Sirles. The Colts registered five sacks.
“The group that they’re putting out there is pretty bad,” one scout said. “Right now there’s really only one guy that’s not a liability. That guy’s name is Boone.”
Clemmings (6-4½, 309), a fourth-round draft choice in 2015, has made nine starts at left tackle and three at right tackle. Sirles (6-6½, 315), a free agent acquired from San Diego in a 2015 trade, has seven starts at right tackle. He has long arms (34 1/2 inches) and small hands (9¼ inches).
“There is some talent there,” one scout said, referring to Clemmings. “He’s got length and quick feet. But he’s just stiff in his lower body, lacks natural awareness, opens up the gate and can be a turnstile.
“(Sirles) lacks balance, punch, doesn’t have feet, gets overpowered. We used to call those guys Burger King guys. Why? Have it your way. You can beat him with power, with speed, on twists.”
Easton (6-2, 303), a free agent from Harvard in 2015, already is on his third team. He has short arms (31 1/8) but scored 38 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. This will be his fourth start.
“He’s got a chance,” said one personnel man. “Good little player. Tough, Pretty good athlete. He’s still learning.”
Berger, the starting center in Games 1-11, moved to right guard Sunday.
“He has been solid in his (12-year) career but I think he’s pretty much done,” said an executive. “He’s got no power. Gets good initial position but can’t sustain.”
Quarterback Sam Bradford has completed 71.6% of his passes. The NFL record of 71.2% was set by the Saints’ Drew Brees in 2011.
“The focus is to win games, it’s not about stats,” Bradford said Tuesday. “It’s not about any of that. I don’t think it (the record) would do much for me.”
Bradford completed 71% in the first game against the Packers en route to a passer rating of 121.2, his second best of the year. His season rating is 97.0.
“He’s the ninth-rated quarterback in the NFL with no run game and no protection,” said one scout. “He’s been really good.”
When offensive coordinator Norv Turner quit after seven games, replacement coordinator Pat Shurmur switched to a shorter, more controlled passing game.
“(Bradford) is skittish,” another scout said. “He doesn’t have mobility. It’s like ‘Checkdown Charlie.’ Swing routes, short. Occasionally they will throw it deep.
“They have some skill on the outside but Bradford isn’t letting things develop. If he does, he gets crushed. The only way he can produce with a deficient offensive line is to get rid of it quick.”
Running back Adrian Peterson returned Sunday wearing a brace on his right knee stemming from arthroscopic surgery Sept. 22 to repair lateral meniscus damage. He played 12 snaps compared to 34 for Jerick McKinnon and 12 for Matt Asiata.
Peterson’s six-carry, 22-yard performance included a lost fumble. His suffered the injury in the third quarter against the Packers, finishing with 19 yards in 12 rushes.
“It’s hard to judge ‘AP’ after missing three months and three practices,” one personnel man said. “The vision and patience wasn’t quite there and he fumbled, but I think that’s more rust than skill diminution.”
The Vikings are tied for 25 in points (18.9), 31st in yards (301.5) and 32nd in rushing yards (70.6).
On the outside
Adam Thielen, the No. 2 wide receiver, suffered a neck injury against the Colts and probably won’t play. He hurt the Packers in the last two games.
“He’s a good, solid third,” said one scout. “Good feel, good hands. Tough guy.”
Lining up with Stefon Diggs, who had nine catches for a career-high 182 yards against Green Bay, will be Cordarrelle Patterson, Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright.
According to Sportradar, Thielen hasn’t dropped a pass all season. Tight end Kyle Rudolph leads the team in drops with five. Diggs has just two.
Kicker Blair Walsh was released after Game 9 and replaced by veteran Kai Forbath. He’s 12 for 12 on field goals but has missed two of seven extra points (one was blocked).