The 1 Thing the Vikings Can do to Set Up the New DC for Success

ESPN Analyst Names Vikings Pass-Rushers the Best in the NFL
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

As of right now, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about who will get the defensive coordinator gig in Minnesota. Three interviews have been completed (Ryan Nielsen, Sean Desai, and Mike Pettine). Another – with Brian Flores – took place yesterday. Hiring a DC is good place to start in the defensive overhaul, but more work remains. What’s 1 thing the Vikings can do to help their DC?

The 1 Thing the Vikings Can Do to Help the Defense

Adding Za’Darius Smith – especially when we consider how the contract was structured – was a stroke of genius from Mr. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

The young executive found a way to give the purple pass rush a fresh infusion of terrifying talent in a manner that didn’t break the budget in 2022. The veteran Smith didn’t even surpass a $3.2 million cap charge in 2022. Going into 2023, Smith’s deal jumps to nearly $17 million against the cap. However, it’s worth noting that Minnesota can move on with minimal dead money left behind ($3,333,334).

The State of the Vikings: Week 15
Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

For the record, I think the Vikings will look toward a restructure with Smith. Doing so keeps him in town and lessens his cap charge in the immediate.

Partnering the former Packer with Danielle Hunter gave the team a nice place to start. It continues to do so heading into 2023. However, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to get the defense to where it needs to be.

Consider, for instance, the Philadelphia Eagles. Last offseason, they added Haason Reddick to their already impressive defensive front. Their defense finished 8th in the NFL by allowing an average of 20.2 points against per game. They led the NFL with a truly eye-popping 70 sacks (the #2 team was all the way back at 55 sacks). Reddick, for his part, added 16 sacks.

Questions Answered: Pro
Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Here’s the kicker, though: the Eagles had 4(!) players come in above 10 sacks. Reddick had 16, Javon Hargrave added 11, Josh Sweat added 11, and Brandon Graham added 11. Fletcher Cox, the veteran DT, added 7.

Folks, the Vikings didn’t even have one player hit 11 sacks, let alone Reddick’s 16. Hunter led the purple and gold with 10.5 and Smith added 10. The next best after those two? D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones with 4 sacks apiece.

With only 38 sacks in 2022, the Vikings had to watch the Eagles nearly double their total.

Put simply, the modest sack totals (and, more importantly, QB pressure as a whole) can’t continue into the 2023 season. There needs to be a strong sense of urgency when it comes to adding a small army of defensive weapons.

Justin Houston, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Melvin Ingram, Marcus Davenport, and Jadeveon Clowney are just a few notable free agent edge rushers. Part of what makes things work in Philadelphia is that they have so many pass rushing threats that it’s hard to neutralize any of them. Loading up on Reddick comes with the downside of one-on-ones against Sweat, Graham, Cox, and Hargrave. Good luck with that.

Can the Vikings replicate this kind of conundrum?

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) looks to pass the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Playing defense in the modern NFL becomes infinitely easier when the opposition’s QB is constantly under duress. Far too often we saw the QB look far too comfortable against Minnesota. Just look at the playoffs for an example. Against Minnesota, Daniel Jones was 24/35 for 301 yards and 2 TDs; he didn’t throw an INT and added 78 rushing yards while only being sacked 3 times. Against Philadelphia, Daniel Jones went 15/27 for 135 yards and 0 TDs; he had an INT and 24 rushing yards while being sacked 5 times.

Obviously, the story of Jones’ playoffs goes beyond just pressure, but the point stays intact: Philadelphia’s defense is loaded with defensive weapons and they’ve been able to get a significantly better result.

Minnesota won’t be able to sign every edge rusher out there, but they’d be foolish if they didn’t add at least one or two. Shuffling money around (something they can do) would allow them to give the DC just a bit more help in 2023, setting him up for a better shot at success.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.