Detroit Lions' Amon-Ra St. Brown is stopped by Minnesota Vikings' Patrick Peterson during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Detroit Lions' Amon-Ra St. Brown is stopped by Minnesota Vikings' Patrick Peterson during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The calmness and optimism Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell pours into the job has not publicly wavered, a steady demeanor built through experience and personality that's not about to suddenly disappear at this point in a 43-year coaching career.

His pass defense hasn't been holding up nearly that well.

The Vikings have allowed 1,678 yards through the air over the past five games amid a devastating combination of an inactive rush and a soft coverage.

With no sacks and no interceptions at Detroit on Sunday, the Vikings had no counter for Jared Goff's precise throws into the gaps in their zones.

They were also burned deep for a pair of 40-plus-yard touchdown passes in the first half that set the tone for the 34-23 loss to the Lions.

“It’s good we’re getting it now, so we know how people are going to attack us. We can talk things over,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “We’re going to be getting teams’ best, especially toward the end of the season. Everyone’s firing, and we’ve got to be on our ‘P’s and ‘Q’s, for sure.”

Donatell's scheme is designed to prevent those long gains, with two-deep coverage that's predicated on pre-snap disguises carried out through the first second of the play. His preference is to rely far more on a four-man rush to affect the quarterback than sending blitzers.

Despite the presence on the edge of standouts Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter, opponents have been plenty comfortable in the pocket lately. Hunter in particular has not quickly adjusted to playing a standup position. The Vikings, according to Sportradar data, have a pressure rate of 18.1% that ranks just 26th in the league.

“That’s what the vision is. What do you do when you don’t have it? Heck, you've got to roll your sleeves up and get to work, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Donatell, who's in his 32nd year in the NFL and 11th as a defensive coordinator. “Do it in harmony and do it together and bring everybody’s energy. That’s what you do. Hey, I can’t guarantee it in five days, six days, seven days, but eventually, we’ll be there. Because we know what we’re doing and how to do it.”

The Vikings (10-3), who host Indianapolis on Saturday, have fallen to last in the league in total yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game and passing yards per play.

“Let’s not lose sight that these guys have made a lot of plays. We’ve got a lot of interceptions. We’ve got a good amount of sacks. We have guys that have made some great clutch plays,” Donatell said.

Donatell acknowledged on Wednesday that the injuries at cornerback opposite stalwart Patrick Peterson have disrupted the learning process for both players and coaches about what those players can and can't do within the coverage assignments. The absence of safety Harrison Smith to a neck injury compounded the problems with communication and recognition.

“We just have to understand the moments that we’re in and understand whatever the offense is giving us, believe what we went through in our studies to try to go make a play before the play has even started,” Peterson said.

Coach Kevin O'Connell made no secret he wants adjustments, assessing the scheme through the lens of an offensive strategist. The hard conversations with the defensive staff this week, though, haven't had to be confrontational.

“If we’ve set things up the right way, even when things get difficult, that’s when I’d like to think the best part of this organization can come out and we can find ways to help everybody’s process and everybody feel that much better,” O'Connell said.


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