Vikings May Have Potential DC Replacement Already in the Building

Vikings May Have Potential DC Replacement Already in the Building
Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine its shown before their game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday, October 21, 2019 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, © Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal S, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

By all accounts, Ed Donatell was allowed to travel home with the team following the awful loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Although he now commands the worst defense on a yards-per-game average in the NFL, he won’t immediately be fired. There could be an in-house replacement, however.

When the Vikings hired Kevin O’Connell to take over for the defensive-minded Mike Zimmer, they wanted someone who could effectively utilize their wealth of skill position players. There was no denying that Minnesota had defensive deficiencies, and the secondary was a large issue in and of itself. That said, the hope was that putting up more points would take pressure off the defense, and they could hold their own to the same or greater extent.

So far, that’s gone horribly.

The Vikings are 9-0 in one-score games this season, and quarterback Kirk Cousins has led six 4th quarter comebacks. That’s great from a mental fortitude standpoint, but it’s all largely reflective of a defense that can’t make the contributions by the offense hold up. That reared its head again on Sunday.

Ed Donatell Fails First Test
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports,

Despite O’Connell’s offense generating 416 yards on the day, Donatell’s defense gave up an unconscionable 464 yards to Jared Goff and the Lions. Multiple big plays, broken coverages, and out-of-position players left Detroit having its way with Minnesota. At this point, and O’Connell hinted at agreeing, something needs to be done.

It would probably be unprecedented to fire a defensive coordinator for a 10-3 team, but that’s a result that could’ve been argued as necessary weeks ago. Instead, the Vikings may need to strip a title or push Donatell back and let someone else lead. Changing the 3-4 scheme at this point hardly makes sense, but Mike Pettine is currently on staff and has coached that blueprint previously.

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Mike Smith, Za’Darius Smith, and Mike Pettine

Pettine was the Cleveland Browns head coach during the 2014-15 seasons after spending years with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills as their defensive coordinator. Pettine earned a solid reputation on that side of the ball with Buffalo, and while his tenure in Cleveland didn’t go great, the situation there may have also been a bit beyond his control. He returned to defensive coordinator duties, this time for the Green Bay Packers, and was employed in that role through the 2020 season.

Sometimes a shakeup that brings in a new voice may be all that’s needed to turn the tide. Clearly, the Vikings have made their lackluster unit work to the tune of a solid record, but it’s beyond clear that it cannot be trusted headed into the playoffs. There’s no reason to think that Pettine will all of a sudden make All-Pro talents out of everyone on the defensive side of the ball, but he may have different ideas from a positioning standpoint. Minnesota has to work with what they have at this point, which means putting guys in a position to succeed. That’s something that Donatell has now failed to do for weeks, and the rookie head coach will need to decide how much longer he wants to watch this play out.

Make no mistake, the Vikings can be a good football team. It’s weird to need that spelled out for a team with a 10-3 record, but every time the defense steps on the field, it’s very easy to forget that it’s valid.

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.