The Search for Next Vikings DC Must Be Open-Minded

There will be a new defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings in 2023.

On Thursday, the team announced the firing of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell after one season. As fun as the 13-4 season was for the Vikings, their defense left a lot to be desired. They allowed 400 yards of offense or more in 10 of 18 games in 2022, finishing 31st in yards allowed and 28th in points.

Sunday’s crushing loss to the New York Giants all but sealed Donatell’s fate. Last Thursday, he told the media that it was the defense’s “time to shine.” Fans were eager to mock the statement after the Vikings allowed Daniel Jones and the mediocre Giants offense to accumulate 431 yards.

The Search for Next Vikings DC Must Be Open-Minded

Many fans believe this move means the Vikings will revert to a 4-3 defense. Donatell, a Vic Fangio disciple, ran a 3-4 scheme, and many familiar faces on the Vikings defense looked out of place. Harrison Smith wasn’t roaming near the line of scrimmage as he did under Mike Zimmer. Eric Kendricks was inconsistent and looked like a shell of himself. And Danielle Hunter, despite getting 10.5 sacks, wasn’t getting as much consistent pressure as he had before 2022.

The Search for Next Vikings DC
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell

But should the next Vikings defensive coordinator have 4-3 defense roots just because our favorite players looked like shells of themselves in a 3-4? I don’t believe so.

Let’s not forget that the 4-3 defenses the Vikings played in 2020 and 2021 were also among the league’s worst. They ranked 29th in yards allowed in 2020 and 30th in points allowed in 2021. Hunter was injured for most of those two seasons, but Kendricks and Smith were main pieces of those units.

The faults of those defenses don’t fall on those three, as much as the young, inexperienced players surrounding them. But the defense is likely to undergo a major overhaul this offseason.

Guys like Patrick Peterson, linebacker Jordan Hicks, and Za’Darius Smith started in 2022 but are all on the wrong side of 30. Peterson was good in 2022 but was burned on too many double moves. Hicks was slow and mostly ineffective. And [Za’Darius] Smith, although he began the season on fire, cooled in the second half of 2022. He only notched half of a sack in the final eight games of the year.

Thing at Stake for
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Kendricks and Harrison Smith are on the wrong side of 30, and the team has to get under the salary cap. Are they even in the team’s future? Nickelback Chandon Sullivan is set to be a free agent, and his good moments were few and far between.

Look at this group of players — there could potentially be six new starters next season.

Keeping a 3-4 scheme for “continuity” wouldn’t hold much weight when looking at the potential overhaul. With so much turnover, the Vikings should opt for the best defensive coordinator they can find, regardless of their defensive philosophy. They need someone who can adapt to today’s NFL offenses. Too many times in 2022, the Vikings defense sat back, got its buttocks kicked, and then continued to sit back.

Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell looks on before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Hopefully, we will begin to see candidates and names emerge as the Vikings search for Donatell’s successor in the coming days. Some fans will want to move away from the 3-4 defense that doomed them in 2022. Others believe that the team has to continue building on the 3-4 principles they installed last offseason.

Ideally, the Vikings won’t box themselves into either category and instead take an open-minded approach. They don’t need the second coming of the ’85 Bears. They just need a defense that has answers for today’s wide-open offenses.