ESPN Nails Minnesota’s Weakness
The Minnesota Vikings underwent some philosophical changes in their recent history, going from a run-first team led by Adrian Peterson and Dalvin Cook to a pass-heavy team with Kirk Cousins under center. In addition, the team was built on strong defenses under Mike Zimmer, at least until 2019, and has been a disaster on that side of the ball ever since.
ESPN Nails Minnesota’s Weakness
The defense was the clear flaw of the 2022 Vikings, a team that somehow won 13 of 17 games despite Ed Donatell’s weak defensive unit. But in the playoffs, it became apparent that it was just too much to overcome. Allowing 31 points to a suspect offense with Daniel Jones under center is a problem.
His group was fine against the run but awful in stopping the pass, resulting in some gaudy stat lines from subpar quarterbacks like Mac Jones, Mike White, and of course, Daniel Jones. The 2022 Vikings defense ranked 31st in passing yards allowed, only trailing the Tennessee Titans, a team that had a plethora of injuries in the secondary.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell named the weakness of 14 contenders. The good news? The Vikings were included, but the bad news is they have a glaring weakness, and Barnwell nailed it by picking the secondary.
Let’s begin a string of teams facing the same problem in different ways. I suppose Vikings fans could point out that their secondary wasn’t very good last season, when Minnesota still managed to go 13-4 and win the division comfortably. It had the league’s sixth-worst pass defense by QBR allowed, and its season ended when Daniel Jones and the Giants marched up and down the field unbothered throughout a 31-24 victory in the postseason.
General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah & Co. knew the secondary was a concern heading into last season, but their best-laid plans didn’t work out. The Vikings used their top two picks in that draft on defensive backs, but Lewis Cine broke his leg in October and missed 14 games, and Andrew Booth was limited to 105 defensive snaps by a knee injury that eventually required surgery. Cameron Dantzler struggled before hitting injured reserve, and Akayleb Evans suffered three concussions before joining him.Bill Barnwell
Indeed, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah identified the problem when he came in. The secondary was also a big problem in the final years of the duo of Rick Spielman and Miek Zimmer pulling the strings, despite Zimmer’s reputation as a cornerback whisperer and Spielman’s tendency to draft cornerbacks early.
The problem was not that the front office didn’t address the secondary. It is that they picked the wrong guys. Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth were non-factors, and Cameron Dantzler maneuvered himself into the second doghouse on as many coaching staffs (he has been waived three times this offseason by three different teams).
Patrick Peterson was great at the beginning of the season and was fine later in the year, but his play also declined. Chandon Sullivan was average on his good days. Duke Shelley had a breakout season, but the Vikings let him go in free agency, and he is currently not projected to make the 53-man roster.
Once again, the Vikings addressed the position, hoping they got it right this time.
Wholesale changes are afoot. Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley and Chandon Sullivan were the three starters at cornerback during the loss to the Giants. They’re all on other rosters. Starting safety Camryn Bynum will be pushed for his spot in the lineup by Josh Metellus and Cine. The only starter from last January who will be in the same spot in Week 1 is stalwart Harrison Smith, who might be entering his final year with the organization.Bill Barnwell
The 2022 cornerbacks are gone. A whole bunch of new ones arrived. Byron Murphy will be the top cornerback, and the starter on the opposite side is Akayleb Evans, who flashed some talent in his rookie season but couldn’t stay on the field. At this point, he is almost as much a mystery as rookie Mekhi Blackmon who has the lead in the race for the nickel cornerback gig. Their development will be an important item to monitor throughout the season.
At safety, Harrison Smith is one starter, and next to him, it appears as if Camryn Bynum is keeping the second safety job, although Josh Metellus is indeed in line for a role on the defense as a rotational player, especially in packages with three safeties on the field. Bynum is entering only his third year as a safety after playing as a cornerback in college, and he has only last season as starting experience. Even though he is entering his third season, he should be considered a second-year player that can still grow.
The two 2022 rookies. Booth and Cine. are currently not on pace to start anytime soon unless they can magically turn their careers around. Still, both offer early-round talent and shouldn’t be written off quite yet.
It remains to be seen if the secondary is actually improved in 2023, but it was a clear point of emphasis in the offseason. Brian Flores’ arrival and the new scheme are expected to make a significant impact on the defensive side of the ball, and if he can turn around the group, the Vikings could become a scary team.
His aggressive mindset is a two-edged sword. Blitzing puts CBs into a single coverage that can be exploited by the offense, especially if the blitz is picked up. On the flip side, if the blitz gets home and creates pressure, it is a great help for the defenders. A lot will depend on if the blitzes work.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt