Vikings Need Help in the Trenches

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Football games are won and lost in the trenches. The game has evolved over the years, but that statement still rings true. If you can dominate the line of scrimmage, you give yourself the best chance to win. It’s unfortunate, then, that’s the area where the 2023 Minnesota Vikings appear weakest. The Vikings need help in the trenches on both sides of the ball if they turn around a 0-2 start and make a run for the playoffs.

Vikings Need Help in the Trenches

It’s an area where the Vikings have been struggling for a while now, and the perception of a failure to remedy the problem is causing frustration among the fanbase. The interior offensive line is a problem that never gets any better. Now, the interior defensive line has become just as big of an issue regarding run defense.

Need Help in
Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, after a 20-17 win over the Washington Commanders in Week 9 of the 2022 regular season.

Before the start of the regular season, the Vikings should have been done to improve both areas. After two games, it looks like a colossal mistake from Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell to have neglected both areas, but what can be done? As Thursday night’s game against the Eagles progressed, the Vikings offense found answers to combat the dominance the Eagles defensive line was showing. No answers for the run defense were found, which suddenly became a significant priority. 

The Offensive Line

The Vikings offensive line, particularly the iOL, is a subject discussed ad nauseam, yet here we are still in the same position. What has made things worse to start the season has been injury problems at left tackle. Christian Darrisaw picked up an ankle injury in Week 1, which he aggravated in the pre-game warm-up on Thursday night. Darrisaw is a super talent, but his ability to stay on the field becomes of greater concern each time he misses another game.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

To make matters worse, Oli Udoh, who has proven himself a capable backup tackle, went down with what has now been confirmed as a season-ending quad injury against the Eagles. David Quessenberry deputized for Udoh and did a solid enough job. The Vikings need to replace Udoh on the roster, and with Quessenberry looking capable and Blake Brandel now having tackle/guard flexibility, Minnesota has the chance to do something they should have already done.

Sign Dalton Risner. The former Broncos guard was in the Twin Cities preseason for a workout, and I found it staggering that they let him leave. Even as someone hopeful of improvement from Ed Ingram this season, signing Risner just made sense. Ingram has struggled as much as ever over the opening two games, and starting center Garrett Bradbury is injured, playing only seven snaps so far this season. The Vikings are shorthanded on the OL. Signing Risner doesn’t just get them some help but immediate improvement.

The Defensive Line

On Flores’ defense, so much hinged on Flores finding a way to improve the group, and he has in many ways. The aggressive nature of the defense is getting after opposition quarterbacks. Danielle Hunter has four sacks already, and there’s a lot to like about the Vikings defense this season. However, the Eagles brutally exposed one major flaw, which has been around for a while and looked as bad as ever on Thursday night. 

One Incognito Viking
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings run defense is, quite frankly, horrible. Once the Eagles realized all they needed to do was line up and run down the Viking’s throat, Minnesota had a problem — one that they were unable to solve and ultimately led to the chances of an unlikely comeback being dead in the water. The Eagles rushed 48 times for a staggering 259 yards. The Vikings defense had no answer. They tried to bring nose tackle Khyiris Tonga into the game, but it made little difference.

How can the Vikings solve this problem? In-house, the options are more Tonga and bringing rookie Jaquelin Roy into the fold. The LSU alumnus has been inactive on the opening two match days. I would suggest that might need to change next weekend. A healthy Marcus Davenport on the edge would also be of considerable help. The big free-agent addition has managed only four snaps so far this season as he works his way back from an ankle injury. A free agent addition — like Akiem Hicks — would be nice, but is it affordable with the OL needing attention too?

Looking Ahead to the Chargers

Minnesota has an extended break following their primetime appearance to try and figure things out on both sides of the trenches. Offensively, they hope to get Darrisaw and Bradbury back in the mix. The longer break is an opportune time to bring someone new in. Will they make the move for Risner? Vikings fans will be waiting with bated breath for any news.

The Chargers defensive front isn’t quite at the caliber of the Eagles, but they do have Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack on the edge. One thing the Vikings did show in Philly was if they get the ball out quickly to their playmakers, they can somewhat nullify their OL problems. Expect to see plenty of that again next week.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Defensively, the run game issues pose a major problem in this matchup. In their Week 1 defeat by the Miami Dolphins, the Chargers rushed for 233 yards. Austin Eleker is one of the best backs in the league and rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown off of 16 carries. He was backed up by Joshua Kelley’s 91 yards and a touchdown off of 16 carries. Aided by a very good offensive line, including Cory Linsley and Rashawn Slater, the Chargers have one of the league’s best rushing attacks. That poses a major problem that the Vikings will have to figure out.