You don’t have to see much Vikings action this season to know that the defense is been a problem.
Kevin O’Connell was brought in as an offensive-minded head coach, and utilizing the skill-position players at his disposal has helped to mask greater issues. With a decent finish to the regular season, Minnesota doesn’t finish last in defense in Year No. 1.
When Mike Zimmer had the Vikings at their best, it was because of his ability to coach up a defense. He got more out of less from the group that stifled opposing offenses, and Minnesota was known as among the better units in the game. Over the past few seasons, things have trended in the opposite direction, and there was never a way Kevin O’Connell would turn that around immediately.
Vikings Defense Narrowly Escapes Ineptitude
Ed Donatell was brought in to help orchestrate a better Vikings unit. The secondary still had plenty of question marks, but adding a better pass rush and changing scheme were thought to be ways to raise the water level. Instead, the Vikings went on a five-game stretch in which they surrendered 400 yards in each outing. That dropped them below the Detroit Lions for the worst unit in football on a yardage per-game average. It wasn’t until the final weeks they jumped back ahead, and Sunday saw them hold serve.
Thanks in large part to the Bears not looking for a competitive game on Sunday, the Vikings were given a pass. Nathan Peterman drew the start before being replaced by Tim Boyle and then eventually returning to action. Chicago posted just 259 yards of offense in a game they sleepwalked through from the get-go. It allowed Minnesota to drop the season average of yards per game down to 388.7, and they bested the Lions by just five yards.
Give it to the Lions for making things interesting despite their season ending even before Sunday Night Football. After the Seattle Seahawks won, Detroit could no longer make the playoffs. Instead of packing it in and rolling over, Dan Campbell’s team held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to only 291 yards of total offense and held on for a 20-16 victory.
Minnesota and Detroit were built mainly the same way this season. Both have bad defenses and employ offenses that could put up points and utilize multiple talents. For the Vikings, that was heavily dependent upon Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins. Thankfully, Minnesota also added former Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson midway through the year to create additional opportunities. Jared Goff had a strong showing for Detroit this season, and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown looks the part of a game-changer.
The ineptitude shown by Donatell’s group this year would have likely gotten him fired had the team not provided a different overall result. It’s near impossible to justify changes for a club that wins 13 games, but there is no denying that the Vikings will need to mask their issues on the defensive side in the playoffs. They’ll face a familiar foe in the New York Giants during round one, but needing to win the game on a franchise record field goal is not something anyone should want in the cards this team around.
For a team that has been defying the odds all year, there is certainly nothing to say they can’t keep up the winning ways. Donatell must lock his unit in for four more games and hope they can do enough to make the offense count.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.