The Critical Next Step for the Vikings Defense

The Vikings defense remains a work in progress.

Mercifully, the 400+ yards streak ended against the Colts. Instead of a sixth-straight game, Ed Donatell’s defense held the Colts to 341 yards. Perhaps more importantly, they only allowed a single offensive TD (and a pile of field fields).

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Oct 2, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) celebrates his touchdown against the Chicago Bears with running back Saquon Barkley. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports.

The hope, of course, is that we’ll see the defense keep the Giants below 400 yards. Like essentially any other observer, I’d petition for a concerted effort toward slowing down Saquon Barkley, New York’s sensational RB. After 14 games, the former first-round pick has put together 1170 yards and 9 TDs. The 269 carries work out to a 4.3 yards per carry average.

Slow down Barkley and there’s a great chance of snagging the victory. Even better, there’s a good chance of keeping points off the board.

Concerns about The Vikings Defense

Recently, I came across the Week 16 power ranking on The 33rd Team. In their mind, the Vikings are the 8th-best team in the NFL. Take a look at the more negative thought they shared:

The fact they gave up 33 points in one half to a Colts team that was averaging 16.1 points per game is concerning. In their last six games, the Vikings have given up 31.3 points per game.

Currently, the Vikings are allowing 24.9 points per game. That ranks 28th in the NFL, yet another indication that the Vikings defense leaves much to be desired.

Of course, not all of last week’s 36 points are on Donatell’s group. After all, there was the pick-six and the punt block returned for a TD. Indy’s large returns on special teams also didn’t help.

Nevertheless, we’ve all seen enough to know that significant improvement needs to occur. It’s possible that the second corner spot will improve with Duke Shelley getting more and more reps, but the issues go beyond just some struggles from the CB2.

Over the past 6 games – as The 33rd Team suggests – the Vikings defense has been allowing far too many points. Their worst performance probably rests in the Dallas game, but things didn’t look very good against the Lions, either.

Seeing Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter reach another level would be massively helpful. Seeing tighter coverage and confusing blitzes would be similarly helpful. Adding those three things together should, in theory, make a noticeable difference on the scoreboard.

Lately, the Giants haven’t been an offensive juggernaut. During their last 6 games – the same time frame in the aforementioned power ranking – New York has averaged just under 20.7 points per game; they topped out at 24 points, and that was against the Texans in mid-November. In fact, the Giants have yet to hit 30 points all season. For the season, the Giants have a 20.5 points per game average, so their current play is right around what we’d expect.

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Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Currently, the Vikings are averaging 25.1 points per game (8th in the NFL).

At 8-5-1, the Giants are among the better teams in the NFC. Nevertheless, it’d be safe to say that most people are expecting a Vikings victory, especially coming off such a sensational comeback over the Colts.

Keeping the Giants close to their season average in points – somewhere around 20 – would likely lead to a win for Minnesota. Kevin O’Connell’s side of the ball can score points, of that we can be sure. Playing at home should only make that pursuit of points easier to accomplish. I’m expecting the Giants to have a difficult time slowing down Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson (who is very close to Vikings history).

In theory, the task is simple and straightforward: keep the opponent well below 30 points. In practice, we know there could be some bumps in the road. Ideally, those bumps will merely be part of a learning experience as the defense incorporates more aggression and competitiveness into their approach.

The Giants game will begin at 12 p.m. CST on Christmas Eve.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.