E Point Perfect

An Unexpected New Problem Emerges for Vikings


An Unexpected New Problem Emerges for Vikings
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates with linebacker Danielle Hunter. © Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The 2022 Vikings struggle with all kinds of things, but it didn’t stop them from getting a 12-4 record and clinching the NFC North with a month to go in the season. No one expected those results in the first season of a new regime, but the purple team made it happen.

One of the biggest problems is the struggling coverage unit, most notably every week when the opposing passer has the best game of his season against the Vikings. The cornerback position, in general, is a big issue as injuries took over, and the Vikings are down to a practice squad player. Even if Duke Shelley is better than the average practice squad guy.

An Unexpected New Problem Emerges for Vikings

Other problems are the expected struggles in Minnesota, like the offensive line and the kicking game. The running game is sometimes nonexistent, and the receivers can’t get open outside of Justin Jefferson. None of those issues prevented an excellent season for the Vikings. However, a new problem emerged in the loss against the Packers, and it’s highly surprising.

No Pass Rush

An Unexpected New
Jun 8, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith (left) and Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

One of the strengths of the Vikings defense is the pass rush. EDGE rushers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith are among the top players at getting to the quarterback. Just a week ago, Hunter had a disruptive game against the Giants. This time, the two couldn’t get close to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Per PFF, the Vikings only managed to pressure the passer on six of his dropbacks. The players recorded eight pressures, three of which were attributed to Hunter, two to Dalvin Tomlinson, one to Brian Asamoah, and one to Khyiris Tonga.

Smith recorded 78 pressures in his first 15 games of the season. That’s more than five per game, but he couldn’t get close to Rodgers once. He made some plays in the running game but none against the pass.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pressuring the quarterback is the best way to stop a dangerous passing attack, especially with a four-man rush. The Vikings even blitzed on ten of 28 dropbacks, a high number for the defense coordinated by Ed Donatell.

In addition to the pair of star linebackers, the Vikings have some good backups. D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones didn’t record a pressure, but they are also having good seasons. Wonnum is a third-year player who was an excellent backup and pass-rush specialist. He is averaging two quarterback pressures per game. 2021 third-rounder Jones has 11 pressures in the season despite playing a limited role.

It’s unlikely that the two dominant pass rushers will make close to no impact again in the near future. However, if it were to happen again, the Vikings would be in trouble. The coaching staff has to think of an alternative plan if the defenders cannot rush the passer.

Reports about Mike Zimmer Appear to Be False
Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

One way could be drawing up some effective blitzes. The former Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was a master at that. His 2021 defense lost Hunter for the season after only seven games, had no effective second rusher, and still managed to record the second-most sacks in the season with 51. The 2022 Vikings are tied for 17th with 37 sacks. Maybe Donatell should give Zimmer a call.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt


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