The 2022 Minnesota Vikings ranked below 27th in the NFL in these relatively important metrics:
- 27th in Defensive DVOA
- 28th in Points Allowed
- 29th in 10+ Yard Gains Allowed
- 29th in 1st Half Points Allowed
- 30th in Yards per Play Allowed
- 30th in Yards per Pass Allowed
- 31st in 3rd Quarter Defense EPA/Play
- 31st in Yards Allowed
- 31st in Passing Yards Allowed
- 31st in 15+ Yard Gains Allowed
- 31st in 25+ Yard Gains Allowed
Does that seem good to you? A blueprint for Super Bowl contendership? Probably not.
Accordingly, head coach Kevin O’Connell fired defensive coordinator Ed Donatell on Thursday, one day after telling reporters he was in “evaluation mode” about his coaching staff.
Donatell, 65, now hits the open market with two other defensive coordinator jobs available — the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins. But it is unclear what role, if any, Donatell will hold elsewhere in 2023.
O’Connell hired Donatell last February at a time when the entire coaching staff and culture were brand new. The Vikings fired general manager Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer 53 weeks ago, and with the subsequent addition of Donatell, Minnesota’s defense hasn’t been feared since 2019 — yes, three years ago.
Vikings Exercise Addition by Subtraction
The Vikings defense hasn’t been elite since 2018, when the group ranked second in the NFL per EPA/Play. Since the end of 2018, the defense has steadily declined, although there was hope in 2022, with the new eyes, that the unit could rejuvenate. Minnesota’s defense wasn’t utterly terrible this season — it forced a lot of turnovers — but it fell on its face in the playoffs against the New York Giants, which is, you know, when it mattered the most.
No frontrunner to replace Donatell is publicly available as of Thursday night, but men like Gus Bradley, Sean Desai, George Edwards, Ejiro Evero, Vic Fangio, Brian Flores, Jerry Gray, Al Holcomb Vance Joseph, Jim Leonhard, Ryan Nielsen, Eric Washington, and Steve Wilks figure to be the experienced options. Otherwise, O’Connell could dig into his Los Angeles Rams roots to hire a former-coworker cornerbacks or linebackers coach for a first audition.
Here’s the Vikings odyssey via defensive DVOA in the last eight years:
Vikings Defense DVOA,
2015 = 14th
2016 = 7th
2017 = 1st
2018 = 3rd
2019 = 4th
2020 = 18th
2021 = 16th
2022 = 27th
Donatell told reporters before the playoff showdown with Giants, “It’s our time to shine as a defense now that we’re hitting the playoffs.”
That theory turned out to be false — the inverse happened, in fact — and now the Vikings are in the market for a new defensive coordinator inside O’Connell’s second act.
If you’re on the fence about Donatell’s departure — switching from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 usually takes longer than one year — ask yourself one question. Did you, as a fan, really want to head into next September merely hoping “things will be different” with Donatell?
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).