With the Rumor Proving True, Vikings Face Grim Reality Going into Week 17

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Not too long after losing to the Lions, the rumors started swirling.

Everyone saw D.J. Wonnum carted off the field. In those instances, it’s hard not to go to the worst-case scenario, but hope can linger that things only appear bad. The initial word wasn’t encouraging, though. On Christmas day, ESPN offered the update: “Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum has a partially torn left quad and will likely need surgery, a source confirmed to ESPN on Monday.”

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A bit later in the week, the Vikings made things official. D.J. Wonnum is now on the IR and has even had successful surgery.

Minnesota’s EDGE2 is the proud owner of 8 sacks (tied for a career high) and 62 tackles (easily a career high). And, let’s not forget, he has taken on the job because of injury to Marcus Davenport. So, the Wonnum subtraction is extra discouraging given some of the broader context.

Predictably, Brian Flores was asked about the significance of losing his pass rusher. “D.J., it’s obviously a huge loss for us defensively and us as a team,” Flores explains, “He’s really grown into a leadership role. Obviously, he’s played well, played so many different spots and done so many different things.” The DC then goes on to compare Wonnum to Josh Metellus because of their shared capacity to offer high-end versatility.

Per Flores, the Vikings need to rely on a “total team effort” to replace Wonnum.

Vikings Face Grim Reality Moving into Week 17

Thankfully, Danielle Hunter is still playing. The Vikings’ undisputed best defender is in the middle of a career year, but his Detroit game was modest. At this point, 7 tackles and a QB hit qualifies as a slow day for Mr. Hunter.

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The real concern, however, isn’t actually with Hunter. Instead, the concern rests in how much attention he’ll demand given that the team is depleted along the defensive line. When Davenport and Wonnum are on the field, an offense needs to ensure they’re devoting plenty of attention to other talented pass rushers. What about when it’s just Hunter, though?

If Hunter was batting clean up for the Twins, the pitcher would probably just give the soft-spoken Jamaican 1st base via intentional walk. No need to risk a home run. The football equivalent is to perpetually double-team him since there is plenty of comfort with leaving the other defenders in one-on-one matchups.

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Of course, there’s no rule dictating that Patrick Jones can’t continue producing. After all, the third-year pass rusher made a pile of great plays against the Lions’ formidable front.

Jones finished Christmas Eve with 6 tackles. Now toss on a sack and then a QB hit. He then had three tackles for loss. Simply put, Patrick Jones had some dominant moments in the game. The edge rusher was putting his best foot forward.

Flashing Lights Could
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Flores, a blitzing wizard, is likely to continue leaning on extra rushers. One thinks of Ivan Pace as someone who can be very disruptive and Anthony Barr may need to be elevated from the practice squad. Once upon a time, the veteran off-ball linebacker was a menace when rushing the passer due to his explosiveness and length.

After Danielle Hunter and Patrick Jones, the Vikings only have Andre Carter. Austin Bryant and/or Quincy Roche could be elevated from the practice squad to help. Take a look at the current hierarchy:

  • Danielle Hunter
  • Patrick Jones
  • Andre Carter
  • Austin Bryant (PS)
  • Quincy Roche (PS)

Does that edge rusher lineup inspire a ton of confidence going into a true must-win prime time game against the team’s arch rival? Jaren Hall is being tossed into very difficult circumstances, so the defense needs to respond by having a great game. Minnesota will need a Herculean Hunter alongside a Jones jolt to get consistent pressure.

Oh, and there’s no time like the present for the rookie UDFA, Andre Carter, to show he belongs in the NFL.

Minnesota continues to lead the league in blitz percentage, coming in at 49.1%. Their pressure percentage comes in at 11th in the NFL and their total sacks are coming in at 12th. Losing D.J. Wonnum will only hurt those numbers, so Flores will need to be creative when it comes to pressuring Jordan Love in Week 17.

Kickoff takes place at 7:20 CST on New Year’s Eve.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

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K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.