Raise your hand if you thought Hercules Mata’afa would be a starting defensive end in the league. Raise both of them if you thought he would be a big reason why we beat the bears AT Soldier Field last Monday.
It’s not just Mata’afa either. There is intrigue surrounding this defensive line for the first time this year and plenty of backups have had the opportunity to prove themselves.
Vikings pass rushers have been surprising onlookers everywhere the past three weeks. The Vikings were the only week 10 football team that didn’t feature a defensive lineman drafted within the first two days of the draft. There is a chip on the shoulder of every guy rotating into the lineup on Sundays and the momentum just keeps growing.
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson deserves a ton of credit as well. Ever since he stepped into the league with the New England Patriots in 1997 he’s developed other worldly talent. He’s a big reason why Hunter is the pass rusher he is, and why so many different players are having success on the defensive front this year.
Patterson is also the reason why so many players who had been previously written off are now finding success at the most crucial time.
“OK, so the bottom line is, OK, it doesn’t matter what round you came in. What matters is what you do when you get here, and are you willing to pay the prices every day to improve as a player? And that’s how I see myself as a coach, so I identify with those guys. I had to work the hard way to get here. I had to work the hard way to stay here. So I identify with those kind of guys, and those guys I love coaching,” Patterson said earlier this week.
You have to love Coach Patterson
It sounds like Patterson respects the guys he’s going to war with every single weekend, especially since he has a similar upbringing to many of the late draft picks playing crucial downs for the Vikes.
As this season progresses it will be interesting to see how this defensive line reacts the rest of the way. D.J. Wonnum is currently fourth in quarterback pressures by a rookie with 15. Mata’afa has played 67 snaps the last three weeks and has registered 10 QB pressures. If these two guys can keep improving we could find ourselves not having to worry about the d-line.
I also don’t want to forget about the positional moves that have been reshaping this defense. Jalyn Holmes and Ifeadi Odenigbo are both pass rushers that have transitioned from the inside to the outside. Mata’afa as well was recently turned into a defensive end. There has been a ton of trial and error with this group, and it finally seems that they’re getting it.
Will every week look like the last while purple jerseys are getting into the backfield every play? Probably not, but for a team that had no hope after week 6, they are doing as well as anyone could have thought.
This coaching staff was tasked with dealing with the impossible. Losing Hunter, Pierce, and Ngakoue for the season should have told us everything we needed to know. BUT these young guys are starting to find themselves, and this bodes well for Viking football.