Arguably the Vikings’ Main Offseason Misstep is Leading to Losses

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Minnesota Vikings
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Have a young, inexperienced secondary? Pivot into ensuring the pass rush is among the best in the NFL.

After a trio of games, the Vikings are sitting at 0-3, the kind of record that foreshadows the end before it can officially arrive. The Vikings’ main issue may be turnovers, but the offseason brought its own misstep: failing to reinforce the pass rushing department. After all, we’re coming off a game where Justin Herbert was fully comfortable, completing 40/47 passes for 405 yards and 3 TDs. His top wideout — Keenan Allen — put together 18 catches for 215 yards (that’s not a typo, folks).

Oh, and Allen also completed a 49-yard pass for a touchdown. Again, not a typo.

Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

So far, the team is leaning on Danielle Hunter as the only consistent source of pressure. The veteran is up to 5 sacks for the season. Given that the team only has 6 sacks, the impressive Hunter stat isn’t an impressive Vikings stat.

According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, the Vikings sent a blitzer 82% of the time. The issue is that the blitzes aren’t leading to results: “We knew that blitzing would be central to Flores’ scheme. But at some point it goes beyond preference and makes you wonder if what the internal assessment is of the Vikings’ base personnel. Because the blitz was historically ineffective today.”

Defensively, the gold standard is getting pressure with just four players while dropping seven into coverage. Minnesota doesn’t have the personnel to pull it off, though, putting Brian Flores in a tricky spot. Herbert executed a game plan that was meant to combat pressure, quickly getting rid of the ball before defenders could get home. As Seifert suggests, the approach didn’t work: “Justin Herbert was 32-38-301-3 against the blitz. The most completions, attempts and yards vs. blitz since ESPN began tracking in 2006.”

The Vikings’ Main Offseason Misstep is Costing Them

Marcus Davenport was brought in to replace Za’Darius Smith. An ankle injury has undermined Davenport’s ability to do so.

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is pressured by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After an encouraging offseason, Davenport popped up on the injury report just before the Week 1 showdown with the Bucs. The ankle injury that arose seemingly out of nowhere has gone on to sideline him for a trio of weeks, all of which being losses.

Now, the absence of a single player isn’t the main reason why the Vikings are losing. The turnovers are atop basically everyone’s priority pile when it comes to ways Minnesota needs to improve. Seeing so little production from the team’s pass rushers is worrisome, though.

Vikings Get a Decent Grade
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The consistent unwillingness to add more veteran talent to the defense revealed an important truth about the team’s offseason approach: Kwesi Adofo-Menwah was fully willing to allow a rebuild to take place on defense. Meanwhile, the offense and special teams were supposed to be good enough to keep the team competitive. In the end, the three units should have led to a team that’s successfully navigating a competitive rebuild.

Instead, the rebuild option is looking increasingly appealing.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Dean Lowry (94) and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Jones and D.J. Wonnum are doing very little to compensate for Davenport’s loss. Dean Lowry was supposed to provide some push from the iDL but has failed to do so.

After Hunter, the most formidable pass-rushing threat in Minnesota is Ivan Pace Jr., the UDFA who has quickly stolen away a starting job. Seeing him thrive so early is certainly reason for applause, but the defense isn’t going anywhere fast if he’s snagging the silver medal in Minnesota’s pass rusher games.

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back D’Andre Swift (0) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

During free agency, the Vikings had the chance to sign still-young players like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Dre’Mont Jones, and/or Arden Key (among others) but opted not to do so. The draft led to the team completely overlooking edge rusher, instead opting for a WR, CB, S, DT, QB, and RB. The consolation prize was UDFA Andre Carter, who did pick up some snaps yesterday. Does the team look back with some regret?

The team currently sits on just under $9 million in cap space. Carolina is next on the schedule.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.