The Vikings Top Defensive Performers vs. Packers, per PFF

Vikings Will Be without 2 Keynote Defenders vs. Lions
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Operating without Mike Zimmer for the first time since 2013, the Minnesota Vikings defense seemed reborn on Sunday in a win over the Green Bay Packers, 23-7.

The Vikings defense struggled mightily at crucial spots in games during the past two seasons. But to start the 2022 season with a new head coach in Kevin O’Connell, the defensive meltdowns never arrived.

Minnesota didn’t exactly execute the “Zimmer standard” on defense from 2017, yet the group as a whole felt more reliable. The Vikings sieged Packers quarterback all afternoon, visibly frustrating the 38-year-old who turned the ball over twice.

Za'Darius Smith Fulfilled the Prophecy
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates with linebacker Danielle Hunter. © Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK.

On defense, these were the top performers per Pro Football Focus:

  1. Harrison Smith (87.5)
  2. Dalvin Tomlinson (83.8)
  3. Harrison Phillips (77.7)
  4. Eric Kendricks (76.4)
  5. Cam Bynum (73.4)

Smith, a Vikings mainstay for 11 seasons, shined to start his age-33 season. He tallied seven tackles, a pass defended, and a rare interception off the aforementioned Rodgers. Smith’s 30 career interceptions are the most by a safety since 2012, when he entered the NFL.

Tomlinson started Year Two with the team versus the Packers — and he did so mightily. He notably recovered a fumble from Rodgers and logged an additional tackle. Tomlinson talked about his desire to sack Rodgers, so the fumble recovery must serve as a fancy consolation prize.

Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) rolls out while being rushed by Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The one newcomer on the list, Phillips, orchestrated a tremendous welcome-to-Minnesota game. The Vikings signed Phillips from the Buffalo Bills in March to replace Michael Pierce, and so far, so good on the decision. He registered three tackles and the impressive PFF score in Week 1.

Kendricks, like Smith in needing no introduction, began his bounceback season in style. The Vikings linebacker quietly endured a down season in 2021 by his lofty standards, but the eighth-year defender seems “back on track” with new teammate Jordan Hicks to his side. Kendricks had four tackles and a pass defended.

Finally, the upstart rookie from last year, Camryn Bynum, proved he belongs in a starting lineup. When the Vikings drafted 2022 rookie Lewis Cine in Round 1 of April’s draft, Bynum could’ve theoretically slid to the bench. That’s what happens when 1st-Rounders join a roster. But Bynum said “no thanks” to all of that, securing a spot alongside Harrison Smith in the Vikings 2022 defensive plans. On Sunday, he notched seven tackles and the 73.4 grade from PFF.

Of all 32 teams through Week 1, the Vikings defense ranked fourth-best via defensive efficiency in EPA/Play.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).