The Main Issue: Overhaul the Vikings Defense

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

The decision to overhaul the Vikings defense is one that Vikings fans would likely welcome.

After bold proclamations about how it was “our time to shine,” Ed Donatell’s defense fell flat. The Giants racked up 431 yards of offense and 31 points. The team did very little to slow Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley (the key to the game), Isaiah Hodgins, and Darius Slayton. One wonders, then, if we’re on the precipice of some massive changes on defense.

How to Overhaul the Vikings Defense

Right up front, we should acknowledge that the solutions go beyond ourselves. Plus, we’ll note that we’ve got no sway in any of the decision making. The task will come down to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Kevin O’Connell, and the rest of the professionals who are paid millions to come up with these solutions.

Nevertheless, what we can say is that change needs to happen. By the end of the year, the Vikings had the 28th-ranked defense since they allowed an average of 25.1 points per game. The passing defense came in at 31st in yards allowed. In the Wild Card round, the pass defense was bad – Jones threw for 301 yards and a pair of TDs – but it was the run defense (or lack thereof) that was the real concern.

Jones finished his day 17 carries for 78 yards. Barkley added 9 carries for 53 yards and a pair of scores.

Following the game, there was some discussion of whether O’Connell would fire Donatell. Wisely, the Vikings’ HC decided to sidestep those questions, instead emphasizing that all three phases of the team need to improve.

“All those things,” O’Connell noted, “are for really a different time and different conversations once we’ve had a chance to kind of collect ourselves and evaluate what took place this year.”

Making any bold proclamations following a tough loss would be misguided, so Minnesota’s young head coach is right to give himself some breathing room. At the end of the day, the focus is all about success in 2023 since the current season is done. Finding the best path forward for 2023 will require some deliberate, careful analysis and planning.

If Donatell does return, there will need to be some major changes. Maintaining the 3-4, 2-high look isn’t necessarily the issue, folks. Instead, it’s what the team is doing within that general framework that’s more of an issue. The scheme – broadly speaking – might stay the same; the main architect, Donatell, might even stay in place as the DC. Nevertheless, that doesn’t preclude the possibility of making some major adjustments to the approach.

There are teams that rely on these same concepts that put forth a considerably better defense.

The personnel is likely to change. Stalwarts like Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, and Duke Shelley are free agents. Veterans like Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, and Za’Darius Smith are all making huge money. How will Adofo-Mensah navigate the snug cap alongside the needed improvement on defense?

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (18) makes a catch for a touchdown 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

If, for instance, the team opted to move on from their starting LB pair, the Vikings would have an additional $14.5 million in cap space. A massive void at linebacker and quite a bit of money.

The point is that the team has some major decisions coming up. The 13-4 record shouldn’t hide the fact that finding future success with a similar defensive effort will be close to impossible. Put simply, needing to overcome such poor play on such a consistent basis isn’t a recipe for success.

In the coming weeks, we’ll learn what O’Connell decides to do. Just know that we’ll need to see a very different defensive effort in 2023 to come close to 13 wins.

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