Minnesota Vikings brought rookie coach Kevin O’Connell on board to create a positive atmosphere in the team and make the most of his attacking potential.
With the Vikings back with Dalvin Cook, wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thelin along with overpriced quarterback Kirk Cousins ($35 million a season), that ceiling is seen as too high compared to most competitors.
However, O’Connell is not a defensive expert, as nearly all of his experience – playing and coaching – is on the offensive side of the ball. As the Vikings have been among the most frustrated defensive teams in the NFL in the past two seasons, the team has hired well-respected Ed Donatiel for improvement.
During the first three matches, the results were shaky. While the defense did an excellent job of limiting Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the season opener to 195 yards and no touchdown passes, Galen Hurts of Philadelphia burned that unit for 333 yards and touchdowns in the second week. Jared Gough of the Detroit Lions had a great game in Week 3 against the Minnesota defense with 277 passing yards and touchdowns.
While the Vikings were able to exit with a last-minute win over the Lions to take their record to 2-1, the defense posted a poor run in a row and should start to show improvement if the Vikings are going to be legitimate contenders in the NFC.
Secondary has been the biggest problem in defense for years, and while the team has been hoping to improve in this area thanks in large part to the drafting of safety rookie Louis Ceni and full back Andrew Booth last spring, this area may need a long time before it improves. Through the first three games, the opposing wide receivers were free and easy during high school and rarely experienced any hitches.
The key to the defense shift must come from the rush of passes. The Vikings have a pair of big-name defensive stars in Daniel Hunter and Zadarius Smith. Hunter comes on injury-packed seasons, but is healthy in 2022. Smith, who starred for the Green Bay Packers, has struggled with injury in the past, but is close to 100% this season.
The Vikings rely on Hunter and Smith to provide consistent pressure on their quarterback from their position as dashing on the edge. They both have a track record of being game-breakers when they’re healthy. Hunter had 14.5 bags in both 2018 and 2019, while Smith had 13.5 and 12.5 bags in 2019 and 2020 for Green Bay.
Hunter earns an average salary of $14.4 million while Smith earns just under $14 million, and the results have been mixed. Hunter had only 1.0 sacks and two tackles to lose in his first three games, but he was able to pressure Goff into the final possession of the fourth quarter, playing a key role in safety Josh Metellus intercepting Detroit’s last desperation pass. The Smith 2.0 had a sack and 5 loss handlers and was somewhat more effective than the Hunter.
Vikings need more of these two main performers, and they also need running defense to progress. The Eagles and Lions had success in top-tier main runs that allowed them to advance in the chains and dictate the pace of the game.
While Hunter and Smith are expected to provide the primary impetus in the passing dash, they also have to contribute to the running defense. Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks lead the team in bouts with 31 and 23 respectively, but if the defensive line can prevent some big holes from opening, those tackles will be much closer to the line of scrimmage or in the background. .
The Vikings offense showed flashes of excellence but not yet consistency. When they face the New Orleans Saints in London on October 2, Cousins and his vast futures will be tested by an opponent searching for answers after losing their last two games to Tampa Bay and the Carolinas.
Donatelle’s defense needs to put in a solid display against an inconsistent New Orleans attack who has scored just 24 points in the last two games. The defensive coordinator will rely on two of his expensive attackers to show their talent and dominate the faltering opponent.