The Minnesota Vikings finished the 2022 season with a premature playoff loss at home to the 9-7-1 New York Giants, ranked 31st leaguewide in yards allowed to opponents, and 27th in the NFL via defensive DVOA.
Accordingly, because the team’s defense struggled so mightily against the Giants, many Vikings fans hoped the team would move on from first-year defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
Vikings Provide Update on Ed Donatell’s Future
And at the Vikings year-end press conference on Wednesday, reporters predictably asked about Donatell’s future out of the gate. Head coach Kevin O’Connell had a clear opportunity to announce that Donatell would be back — or depart — but instead stated he was in “evaluation mode” regarding Donatell’s future with the Vikings.
It was a golden opportunity for O’Connell to squash the oft-mentioned “fire Donatell” rumors, but the young Vikings skipper declined — and affirmed his 2022 autopsy hadn’t concluded. Interpretation of Donatell’s future can truly go either way, but it would’ve been much more straightforward for O’Connell just to step on the “get rid of him” hearsay and move on. But he did not.
O’Connell also said, “Defensively, it’s all about finding our way for improvement.”
One year ago, the Vikings ended a “defensive era” of football, piloted by former head coach Mike Zimmer — an era where Minnesota ranked fourth in the NFL per EPA/Play on defense (from 2014 to 2021). A defensive dip was probably always on the agenda, but the depths were undetermined with an offense-first head coach in O’Connell. Yet, the Vikings defense in the Wildcard Round sounded the alarm for change, as Minnesota’s offense was nearly flawless for 59 minutes. An average Vikings defense likely would’ve sent the franchise to San Francisco this weekend for a Divisional Round playoff game.
The Vikings, too, switched from a 4-3 scheme famously touted by Zimmer to a modern 3-4 system this year, and such transitions tend to take more than a single season. If Donatell survives O’Connell’s evaluation process, it will be because he received the benefit of the doubt in flipping defensive schemes.
Minnesota needs more speed on defense, as well. Its off-ball linebackers are both 30 years old — will be 31 during the 2023 season — and both men, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks, appeared a bit slower compared to yesteryear. ESPN even theorized this week that Kendricks and Hicks could be cap casualties amid the Vikings 2023 offseason.
In Donatell’s previous stops as defensive coordinator, his defense tended to “stay the same” or improve a wee bit in the second year:
Team Defensive Ranking,
2022 (MIN) = 16th
2021 (DEN) = 14th
2020 (DEN) = 17th
2019 (DEN) = 17th
2006 (ATL) = 22nd
2005 (ATL) = 19th
2004 (ATL) = 14th
2003 (GB) = 9th
2002 (GB) = 5th
2001 (GB) = 6th
2000 (GB) = 15th
O’Connell will likely decide on the defensive coordinator question within a week or so.
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).