Well, That Was a Defensive Stinker.

Well, That Was a Defensive Stinker.
Lions running back D'Andre Swift is tackled by Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter during the second half of the Lions' 34-23 win over the Vikings on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, at Ford Field. © Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The Minnesota Vikings lost their third game of the season in Week 14. Most Vikings fans would’ve agreed to that before the season started, but after the success of the 2022 campaign, the loss was a big disappointment. Like in most games, we learned some things about the Vikings.

The Defense Stinks

Everyone knew the Vikings wouldn’t field an elite defensive unit in 2022. They changed a few things compared to the 2021 season, like implementing a new scheme and signing a handful of new starters. However, Ed Donatell, the defensive coordinator, couldn’t change the results of that side of the ball compared to the days of Mike Zimmer. They still give up a lot of yards, and it’s hard for them to get off the field.

How Much Can the Vikings Secondary Give?
Sep 30, 2022; Thundridge, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Some of that is a scheme problem. Some parts are personnel issues. The NFL is about performance, and the performance against the Lions was dreadful to watch. The Vikings forced only two punts on ten drives, and the Lions turned the ball over on downs once. The other seven drives ended in four touchdowns, two made field goals, and a missed kick from 47 yards.

Detroit killed the Vikings on third downs, as they converted on seven of 15 attempts and added a fourth down conversion. The Lions managed to convert five third downs with eight or more yards to go. That third-down defense was a strength of the Vikings in the first 12 games. Another strength was taking the ball away from the opponent. The Vikings forced 20 turnovers in the first 12 games but none in Detroit.

It often felt like the Vikings always allowed a receiver to run wide-open 15 yards down the field. In addition, Jared Goff connected twice with a wideout for a big touchdown early in the game. Jameson Williams and D.J. Chark had 41-yard and 48-yard touchdown receptions in the first half. Goff had one of his best career games and tore up the Vikings defense. Every passer seems to have career days against the purple team.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff passes against the Vikings during the second half of the Lions’ 34-23 win over the Vikings on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, at Ford Field. Lionsminn 121122 Kd 6150

Unless the defense can improve in the next month before the playoffs start, the Vikings will have a tough time winning a postseason game. The last five opponents all had more than 400 offensive yards. It’s hard to win games in the NFL with that kind of defensive output.

Defensive coordinator Donatell could be on the hotseat rather quickly if the struggles continue. Some more aggressiveness up front could be a short-term solution. That could lead to some more big plays, but those obviously happened without the aggressiveness, too.

Cousins-Jefferson Connection Remains Unstoppable

Both quarterback Kirk Cousins and wideout Justin Jefferson had outstanding games, and it’s a shame that the players around them didn’t do enough to secure the win. Cousins received a 91.5 PFF grade, his best since 2019. His EPA/play was the best in the league in Week 14, and his numbers are impressive. The passer completed 31 of 41 throws for 425 yards, two touchdowns, and no interception.

Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson rushes Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the second half of the Lions’ 34-23 win over the Vikings on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, at Ford Field. Lionsminn 121122 Kd 6586

More than half of the yardage went to Justin Jefferson, who caught 11 passes for 223 yards. Unfortunately, Jefferson didn’t get a touchdown, as the referees called a play dead on which he did not step out of bounds. It would’ve easily been one of the greatest plays of the season. The 223 receiving yards are the most in a single regular-season game in franchise history.

Jefferson is now leading the league in receptions and yards and could come close to the NFL record in a single season. The franchise record in one season, held by Randy Moss, could be broken as soon as next week. The duo is clearly the team’s strength, and Kevin O’Connell should feature the connection as often as possible.

Running Game Non-Existent

The Vikings’ rushing attack has been average league-wide in the 2022 season. The game against the Lions, however, was as close to a catastrophic performance as possible. Davlin Cook finished with 15 carries for 23 yards. That is an average of 1.6. He was not able to break tackles or find holes.

Lions defenders tackle Vikings running back Dalvin Cook during the first half on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, at Ford Field. Lionsminn 121122 Kd 3867

Of course, it didn’t help that star left tackle Christian Darrisaw and center Garrett Bradbury missed the game, and the line didn’t open many holes. Cook was met in the backfield on multiple plays. A highly-paid running back should be able to wiggle out of a tough situation every now and then.

Alexander Mattison, who is playing a wonderful season as a backup, had -1 rushing yard on two carries. The negative runs virtually ended multiple drives and forced punts. Despite only running the ball 17 times, it’s a fair question to ask if the Vikings should’ve wholly abandoned the running game much earlier in the game, especially with the explosive and effective passing offense.

Injuries Hurt the Vikings

Injuries are part of the game, and the Vikings have been one of the more fortunate teams in that area. In Week 14, Minnesota missed a few valuable players, and it showed on the field. Fans were reminded about the injury of safety Harrison Smith early in the game when the Lions scored on two big plays. It’s possible that Harrison Smith could’ve made a difference there and helped prevent the mistakes.

Vikings Winners and Losers — Week 8
Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Whenever an elite player is missing, his backup obviously can’t replace him. Blake Brandel played a solid game for a backup but left tackle Christian Darrisaw is on a different level. The Vikings missed him, especially in the running game.

Austin Schlottmann replaced center Garrett Bradbury. Bradbury is having his best career season, and Schlottmann was a downgrade. He allowed five quarterback pressures and two quarterback hits. All three could be back on Saturday against the Colts.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt