The title says it all: the Minnesota Vikings now have a complete defense as they head into the 2021 season. It’s all on paper, so we’ll obviously need to wait for the actual games. Nevertheless, fans should have some guarded optimism. We have good reason to believe that we will once again be among the league’s elite defenses.
Last Season’s Defense
Last season didn’t go as planned. By this point, you know the story. There was a defensive exodus. There were a myriad of injuries. We simply didn’t have what it takes to overcome all of those factors.
As we discussed in our recent podcast episode with Christopher Gates of Daily Norseman, the Vikings defense didn’t have a lot of bad players last year, they had a lot of bad roles. D.J. Wonnum may go on to be an excellent player, but he wasn’t put in a position to succeed last year. He was forced into a role that really wasn’t meant for him. The same may be said for the young corners, several depth linebackers, and numerous others.
The end result, of course, left a little to be desired. The low point for me was the Christmas game against the Saints. We just didn’t have an answer for Alvin Kamara, and many fans were a little like myself: wondering how much of a difference adding one of Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, or several others would have made.
By the end of the year, we were allowing nearly 400 yards of offense per game, more than 100 yards worse than the league’s best defense. The 29.7 points per game (on average) was similarly disastrous.
A Mike Zimmer team was never meant to be so awful on defense.
The 2021 Minnesota Vikings Defense
Fast forward to June 2021 and things look considerably different for the Minnesota Vikings defense.
Credit where it’s due: Rick Spielman and Brilliant Brez have done a magnificent job dancing around the salary cap. In the last podcast episode, Sam expressed some concern about how adding void years involves less future financial flexibility. It’s a valid concern, one that teams need to continually keep in mind as they make these moves.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Minnesota’s priority is about winning now. I’m on board with this approach. Unless you have a truly elite quarterback – Minnesota’s doesn’t – Super Bowl windows are fleeting. As a result, I’m fine with loading up in the short-term to give this thing a real shot. Let’s let 2022 and 2023 worry about themselves. In the meantime, let’s see what can be accomplished in 2021.
The Hunter news gives us legitimate reason to believe Minnesota could once again have an elite defense. It isn’t just his consecutive 14.5 sack seasons (before last season’s injury, of course). Nay, it’s also the huge impact he’ll have for everyone else on the defense.
The other defensive linemen get easier match ups. The linebackers will have more room to operate as the offense needs to allocate blocking to Hunter. The secondary will have to cover for less time. One elite player can have a ripple effect throughout an entire lineup. Hunter is that good.
Let’s also keep the Sheldon Richardson rumors in mind (which have now been confirmed):
The Vikings and DT Sheldon Richardson are making progress on a deal to bring him back to Minnesota. While the deal is not done yet, it’s headed that way, per source. @jack_h_day was first to mention the possible reunion.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) June 14, 2021
Is Richardson an elite player at this stage of his career? By no means. Let’s go back to having good roles, though. In Minnesota’s defense, Richardson can take on a role that is well-suited to his current skill set and abilities. On third down, expect to see Michael Pierce come off the field in favor of Richardson. Again, it’s all about a team role that makes sense. Pierce is the early down run-stuffer; Richardson is the pass rushing specialist.
Vikings are indeed working on a deal to bring back DT Sheldon Richardson, per source. Richardson is a pass rushing 3T and played in Minnesota in 2018 and totaled 47 pressures. Interior pass rush has still been a need even w/ the return of Pierce & signing of Tomlinson. On the day
— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) June 14, 2021
The upgrades in the secondary, the health at linebacker, and the talent infusion along the defensive line are going to make life considerably easier for Zim.
Where Does This Leave Us?
Well, we should expect our Vikings to be legit contenders in the NFC playoff race.
My heart has been broken too many times to simply overlook the reality that being a purple fan means embracing an unusually high degree of disappointment. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Minnesota’s leadership is embracing a full-scale defensive rebuild in order to give 2021 their best shot. It’s as if Pat Benatar was playing her hit song in Minnesota all offseason and Spielman/Zimmer have decided to fire away.
There are no guarantees in life apart from the love of a good dog and Vikings disaster. Be that as it may, Vikings fans should bask in the glory of offseason optimism. The defense looks like it’ll be tremendous.
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