Vikings Defense Benefits from Week 1 Opponent

Mayfield in Purple
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings were among the worst defenses in football last year. That resulted in Ed Donatell being shown the door and Brian Flores taking over. If Kevin O’Connell’s team is going to avoid serious regression, they’ll need to be much better defensively, and that can start on Sunday.

Vikings Defense Benefits from Week 1 Opponent

Any time you start a season with Week 1 being played at home, you have to feel good about the ability to build momentum. The Vikings have an incredible homefield advantage when playing at U.S. Bank Stadium, and that should continue to be the case in 2023. For a defense needing to establish a new identity, getting some familiarity is big.

Not only do the Vikings get to start at their place, but they welcome in a new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. Tom Brady is no longer under center, and that makes all of the difference in the world. Head coach Todd Bowles will have his work cut out for him as the team tries to remain relevant, and Baker Mayfield is now the captain of the ship.

Defense Benefits
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Starting games for both the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams a season ago, Mayfield has now joined the Buccaneers as a free agent in the offseason. He went 2-8 as a starter and hasn’t had a winning record under center since the 2020 season. Mayfield is a dual-threat quarterback who plays a sandlot style of quarterback, but he certainly is prone to mistakes.

Throughout his career, Mayfield owns a lackluster 102/64 TD/INT ratio, which presents plenty of opportunity for Flores to make his mark. The Vikings new defensive coordinator should be expected to give Mayfield all he can handle on Sunday, and forcing him into mistakes will be the goal for Minnesota up front.

In the backfield, Rachaad White is still looking to establish himself as a consistent NFL talent. He has just 129 carries under his belt, and being given the reins as the guy this season will add a significant amount of pressure. The Vikings corners are arguably the softest spot on the Minnesota roster. They will find an immediate challenge with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin being superstars, but neutralizing them or keeping them in check would go a long way towards establishing belief as the season goes on.

Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports.

Rather than the Vikings having to take on a dominant foe right out of the gate, they get a Tampa Bay team in transition. Mayfield is probably not the long-term answer at quarterback for them, and the offense around a player like that all takes a hit. Minnesota can force the action as it sees fit from a position of comfort, and that has to be reassuring for everyone involved.

How much the Vikings can establish an identity through a game they are expected to win is something to key on. O’Connell’s offense is not expected to miss a beat, even while losing Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen. Integrating Jordan Addison will come, and T.J. Hockenson will be featured plenty. Finding a way to create defensive positives has to be the focal point early.

Vikings to Showcase
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

With such a talented defensive coordinator coming to the Vikings, seeing Flores push his presence to the field would be great. Minnesota went through a scheme switch last year under Donatell, and then nothing really took hold for the group as a whole. Flores has been adamant that the scheme will be situation-dependent, and the unit as a whole can distance themselves from the 2022 catastrophe.

Last season, the Vikings had a lot of luck work in their favor as they racked up close wins. Being able to generate more of their own luck and really just putting the offense in better situations can go a long way toward making 2023 a successful season.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.