Harrison Phillips Had a Day in Green Bay

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The appointment of Brian Flores as defensive coordinator had Vikings fans hoping for a much-improved defense in 2023. There have been many signs of individual players playing much better, and as defense as a whole keeps getting better week after week, the defensive performance on Sunday was arguably the best of the season and was certainly the best game of the season for one Vikings defender.

Harrison Phillips had a day in Green Bay, with a dominant performance in the middle of the Vikings defensive line.

Harrison Phillips Had a Day in Green Bay

The defensive line was a major problem for the Vikings over the first few weeks of the season. It is still an area of the team that will need addressing in the offseason, but the unit has been playing better in recent weeks. Phillips is the Vikings best player at that position, but his season hasn’t been as good as the Vikings, or himself would have liked. That changed on Sunday with a monster performance that left the Packers run game dead in the water.

Harrison Phillips Had
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Packers QB Jordan Love was Green Bay’s leading rusher on the day, with 34 yards on four scrambles — aided by a 15-yard scramble on 4th and 16 that resulted in a turnover on downs. Aaron Jones managed just 29 yards off seven carries, while A.J. Dillon was kept to a meager 11 yards off six carries. Stuffing the Vikings run game and getting out into a lead forced the game into the hands of the Packers QB — a major factor in why the Vikings won the game, and it was Phillips who led the way on the Vikings defense.

Pro Football Focus gave Phillips an overall grade of 80.6 for his efforts at Lambeau Field. His 86.2 run defense grade is by far his best grade of the season and exactly what the Vikings need from their big tackle. Phillips had eight tackles on the day, including stopping Dillon on 3rd and 1 twice for no gain — once at the Vikings one-yard line.

The big moments are when a team needs its best players at a position to step up. We saw that from Phillips on Sunday. He even got involved in the pass rush, combining with D.J. Wonnum for a sack on the Packers penultimate drive.

D-Line Improvement

Following Kirk Cousins season-ending injury, the Vikings need their defense to step up. The Vikings have the offensive line and weapons to help Jaren Hall, or whoever it might be, step into the starting QB role and do well. However, a lot will fall on the defense if Minnesota is to remain competitive for the rest of the season. Jonathan Bullard is a reliable veteran next to Phillips, while Dean Lowry has been improved in recent weeks. The former Packer had a horrible start to his Vikings career but has upped his game to a serviceable standard as he has settled into his new club.

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The defensive line depth is completed by Khyiris Tonga and fifth-round rookie Jaquelin Roy. It surprised me that over the first six games, only one of those two made the game-day roster, with the other inactive on game-day. Tonga is a nose tackle who comes in to add beef on plays that are likely to be rushing attempts. Roy is a tackle who can play as the defensive end in a front three. 

Roy has only played on 44 snaps so far, but the early signs have been promising. The rookie has seven tackles and a QB hit from his limited playtime and has an overall grade of 71.0 from PFF — with a run grade of 75.7. That is a promising start from a fifth-round rookie and one he can hopefully build upon over the rest of the season. As a group, the defensive line is much improved from the first few games, and the Vikings need that upward trajectory to continue.

Next up for the Vikings is the Atlanta Falcons on the road, a team whose offense tends to lean heavily into their run game. Minnesota will need a stout run defense when the two teams meet this Sunday, and Phillips will be the man in the middle leading that charge.