The Minnesota Vikings have allowed the ball to be passed against them this season at an alarming rate.
This week they had to give up their best defensive back. Talk about a combustible combination.
The Vikings placed safety Harrison Smith on injured reserve with designation to return on Friday, and the best-case scenario for him is a return for the final three games when he's eligible to rejoin the active roster. In six weeks when he will be allowed to resume practicing with the team, coach Leslie Frazier said, the Vikings will re-evaluate the turf toe injury on his left foot and determine whether he's healing fast enough to do that or recommend surgery that requires four to six months of rehabilitation.
"I was upset about that. I love playing with him," cornerback Chris Cook said. "He's the best safety I've ever played with, and I'm definitely going to miss him out there."
Cook's career began in 2010, so his sample size is limited. But losing Smith, a first-round draft pick in 2012 who instantly became one of the biggest-impact players on the team, is another can't-make-this-up blow to a reeling secondary. Andrew Sendejo will replace him in the starting lineup.
The Vikings have given up the fourth-most average yards passing per game in the league this year with 308, putting them on pace to break the franchise record of 4,225 yards surrendered in 2007. With 13 touchdowns given up in five games, they're last in the NFL with that rate and also on pace to set the franchise mark for futility with 41 scores thrown against them this season.
"No matter what the rankings, no matter how many plays, you still have to have confidence at corner," cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. "To be a great secondary, to be a great corner, you've still got to have confidence and hope. So that's what we're doing."
Over the last 15 seasons, the Vikings have finished in the bottom quarter of the league in passing nine times in yards allowed and four times in touchdowns allowed for average rankings of 25th and 19th in those categories in that span.
Smith has two interceptions, the only ones this year by a Vikings defensive back. Cornerback Jacob Lacey was signed to fill his roster spot.
Though the Vikings must play on the road Monday they're at least facing a struggling quarterback in Eli Manning, whose 15 interceptions lead the league.
"It's very exciting. Hopefully he'll come in and throw us a few," said Cook, who has yet to record an interception in 26 NFL games.
This defense, though, has more problems than lax coverage or a lack of interceptions. Stopping the run used to be its calling card, and that's not happening anymore. Last week's 35-10 loss to Carolina was evidence.
"They could do whatever they wanted, and when you don't get your footing in one facet of the game, it's hard to stop either," linebacker Chad Greenway said.
NOTES: RB Adrian Peterson was held out of practice Thursday to rest a tight hamstring, and the Vikings did the same for LT Matt Kalil due to tightness in his back. Frazier said neither injury is a concern. ... LB Desmond Bishop will have reconstructive right knee surgery done Tuesday by Alabama-based specialist Dr. James Andrews. He was hurt Sunday when a Carolina player rolled into his leg after missing a cut block attempt on DE Jared Allen. Bishop missed last season with Green Bay because of a torn right hamstring, an injury he said was worse than this. "I've been here before. I know what it takes to come back, physically, mentally, psychologically. I'm prepared," said Bishop, who signed a one-year contract with Minnesota and will turn 30 before next season. ... The Vikings won't decide until Monday whether Blair Walsh (right hamstring) will take kickoff duties back from punter Jeff Locke, who filled in last week. Locke sent two kickoffs to the end zone, one for a touchback, and also averaged 49.8 yards on four punts. "The best game he's had as a pro," special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said.