1 Blueprint for Fixing the Minnesota Vikings Defense

Vikings CB Problem Intensifies
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the Washington Commanders during the second half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The process has begun for the Minnesota Vikings as they look to replace Ed Donatell as the team’s defensive coordinator. The team starts the slow, arduous process of repairing their broken defensive unit.

Apparently, the fans at home were not the only ones tired of watching the Vikings defense get torched like a burnt marshmallow. Let’s not pretend that this will be an easy process for Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo Mensah, but the plan to improve the defense is there, and this is what it looks like.

1 Blueprint for Fixing the Minnesota Vikings Defense

Step 1: Identify the problem – Just like a doctor diagnosing a patient, we must figure out what’s wrong with the defense. And let’s be real: It’s not hard to see where they’ve been struggling. The unit is aging, the scheme wasn’t a good fit, and everybody forgot to tackle all at once.

Adofo-Mensah will take a long hard look at the personnel on the books and decide who the team might be moving on without, and it’s likely to be some familiar names. Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Jordan Hicks, and Za’Darius Smith are all expected to be a part of this conversation. From there, Coach O’Connell will decide whether or not to abandon the 3-4 and who will lead the unit. The 3-4 in and of itself is not a broken scheme. The Vikings just didn’t have the right players to fill it.

The latter decisions will certainly see the GM and head coach leaning on each other. From there, it’s up to the coaches to brush up on the little stuff and the players to take ownership of their responsibilities.

1 Blueprint for Fixing
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55), sacks Miami Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. © Bill Ingram / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Step 2: Target the positions – Mentioned in the assessment above, Kwesi’s got his work cut out for him this offseason. There are sure to be some tough decisions to make. He’ll make these decisions based on what he saw on the field this season and what he thinks might be available on the market through free agency and the draft, depending on the scheme decision targeting the positions of need both for starting lineup and depth concerns. There’s more than one way to reconstruct this defense — look for the team to bring in new players through free agency, the draft, or trades to strengthen the defense.

Step 3: Develop a new scheme – Whether or not the decision lands with a 3-4 or a 4-3, you need to be ready to be more adaptable than what we saw on the field this season.

It wasn’t until the final stretch of the season that it appeared the Vikings started to make some adaptations on the defense. At that point, it was too late for the players to find their new groove, and it may not have been the right switch to make anyway. Time to come up with a new game plan! 3-4 or 4-3, you won’t have all the pieces in place for this season, so you’ll need to approach with a hybrid scheme this year that plays to your team’s strengths while addressing the glaring weaknesses we all saw.

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

Step 4: Improve player development – It’s not entirely fair to judge the new regime off one offseason in which the first and second-round draft picks had no impact thanks to injuries.

Still, the pipeline of young talent backfilling a roster with depth feels thin at the present moment. Identifying players that can contribute, players that have the potential, and players that are moldable will be essential to both the short-term and long-term success of the Vikings. Working on the behind-the-scenes plan to help the team improve will be crucial. This could mean additional coaching, strength and conditioning programs, or film study.

Step 5: Monitor progress – Again, as referenced above, don’t find yourself too far down the road next season when you make your first adjustments. It’s the whole square peg-in-a-round-hole thing. How long will you sit there trying to jam it in before you realize something needs to change? With a team whose margin of victory is so paper thin, allowing your defense to hemorrhage yards and points like they did this year may not have the same outcome as it did in 2022.

Step 6: Be aggressive – Money isn’t growing on trees for this team right now, but being aggressive and focusing on defense should be the motto for Vikings free agency 2023.

Does this mean targeting top-tier veteran free agents? Maybe — but they won’t be cheap, and you’ve got a lot of holes to fill. Rather, spreading your available money out on proven but not top-flight free agents might be the plan that is needed this season. Before you can heal the wound and grow back stronger, you must successfully stop the bleeding, which might be what this next season is all about. Then, you pave the way for the young players you’ve invested in to step into prominent roles and live up to the hype.

'Horrible Harry' Was Pretty Wonderful on Tuesday
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

Step 7: Keep the coaching staff stable – Off to a rough start with this one, but something had to change with the defensive leadership. Still, it’s better to admit your mistake early and cut bait than to fool yourself into thinking it can improve.

I applaud the decision, albeit never easy, to cut ties with Donatell and bring in new leadership. But you can’t miss this again. If there is no drastic improvement from year to year, the target lands on O’Connell’s back, no matter how magical his first season may have been. Continuity is an important factor in all areas of the NFL, but it’s not a luxury that many have. It’s a what have you done for me lately league, so the pieces are constantly moving. Landing one that sticks could be essential for the future of this team.

Getting the Vikings defense back to the standard set by the Purple People Eaters, The Williams Wall, and the Zimm Reapers won’t be easy, but we’re not expecting it to happen next season. It will take the right approach, it will take the right leadership, and it will take the right players to do so.


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