The Vikings Defense Needs to Adjust its Strategy

Vikings May Need to Hold Open Tryouts at CB
Sep 30, 2022; Thundridge, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Perhaps it’s been easy to overlook since the team sits at an impressive 9-2 record. Nevertheless, it’s notable that the Vikings defense has struggled for a good portion of the season.

Ed Donatell – the team’s new defensive coordinator – brought his 3-4 defense with him to Minnesota. Quite often, the defense begins in a 2-high look with Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum in a deep position. Meanwhile, the veteran DC has opted for nickel with great regularity, making Chandon Sullivan a near full-time starter.

In a general sense, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. Plenty of teams have used a 3-4 with great success; ditto for beginning plays with 2 safeties deep. The issue is that moving the ball on Minnesota’s defense can often be far too easy.

Last night, the Patriots had 5 separate receivers pick up catches that exceeded 25 yards (as Sam pointed out to me on Notes from the North). In theory, leaving an extra safety deep ought to nullify the deep passes while making the team a touch more vulnerable to the run. Currently, teams are capable of both passing and running on the Vikings defense.

Take a look at some of the notable numbers for the Patriots:

  • 26 points
  • 382 passing yards for Mac Jones
  • 409 total yards of offense
  • 5.1 YPC for Rhamondre Stevenson

Don’t forget the broader context. Minnesota is coming off the Dallas demolition that featured Mike McCarthy’s side putting up 40 points. The Patriots offense was coming off a week when they could only put up 3 points against the Jets. In other words, both sides ought to have entered this matchup highly motivated. In the end, I don’t think either side is fully satisfied with their performance.

Right now, Donatell’s defense is sitting at 21st in the NFL with an average of 23.4 points against per game. There’s simply too much talent on that side of the ball for them to be struggling so much.

At the beginning of the 4th quarter, Mike Tirico indicated that the Vikings hadn’t yet hit Mac Jones. Folks, that’s a major issue. If a team is struggling in coverage, then a great solution is to generate pressure. Shelley is this team’s CB5, so expecting him to play perfect football isn’t realistic. Instead, the team ought to have invested in making sure Jones couldn’t get comfortable in the pocket. Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen until the end of the game.

The Vikings defense cannot be complacent moving forward. Games against teams like the Jets, Lions, and Colts don’t inspire a ton of fear, and yet there needs to be a real sense of urgency for improvement.

Should the team be blitzing more? Should there be more man coverage sprinkled in? Should they play with 3 defensive linemen on the field more? These are all questions that need serious consideration.

At 9-2, Minnesota has shown that they’re a good football team. In fact, there’s a pretty persuasive case that they’re among the league’s best teams. It’s that potential to do something special in 2022 that ought to be a motivating factor for the defense. If that side of the ball can start to become tougher to play against, the Vikings can go a long way.

Editor’s Note: Information from NFL.com, Pro Football Reference, and StatMuse helped with this piece.