A Vikings Unit Is Forecasted to Make a Significant Jump in 2023

Vikings Stadium Evidently
Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; A general view of U.S. Bank Stadium before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The 2022 version of the Minnesota Vikings can be summed up pretty easily. The passing offense was fine. The running attack left a lot to be desired. It was a phenomenal team in clutch situations — shown by the insane 11-0 record in one-score games during the regular season — but the team was also a mess on defense.

A Vikings Unit Is Forecasted to Make a Significant Jump in 2023

That weakness on the defensive side of the ball cost the team the status of a real contender despite the 13-4 record, and it was the main reason for the lost postseason game.

A Vikings Unit Is Forecasted to Make a Significant Jump in 2023
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) and linebacker Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Things have to change after three years of defensive ineptitude, resulting in the second-worst defense in yards allowed and the 30th-ranked unit in points allowed in 2022. The Vikings took action, replacing multiple starters and the defensive coordinator Ed Donatell by hiring Brian Flores, a highly regarded coach in the NFL.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell finally said no more to Donatell’s bend-don’t-break approach and hired Flores, who loves to pressure defenses by blitzing from all angles. Multiple players used the word aggressiveness to describe the new system.

Bucky Brooks, an analyst for NFL.com, put the Vikings’ defense on his list of four defenses bound to improve.

Although it takes exceptional talent to flourish in the NFL, the presence of a high-end coach can help a group exceed expectations. First-year Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores will produce better results than predecessor Ed Donatell, thanks not only to his attention to fundamentals and detail but his creative Xs and Os, as well.

The former Dolphins head coach showed an ability to confound opponents with a bluff-and-blitz Cover 0 scheme in Miami, and I expect him to utilize some of those same tactics to help the Vikings diffuse the high-powered offenses around the league. Coach Flo will transform a group lacking in star power into a disruptive force that creates chaos with blitzes and simulated pressures.

As Flores works his magic, the brilliant defensive strategist could quickly re-emerge as a head-coaching candidate, having directed an impressive turnaround in short order.

Bucky Brooks
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.

The new blitzing defense is expected to be more effective at stopping opponents, but even if it isn’t, it is undoubtedly less frustrating to watch. Last year’s group dropped back into coverage and waited for opponents to tear them apart — and most did.

Flores’ aggressive approach has been praised¬†ad nauseam, and the players seem to love it. The 2022 Vikings blitzed the quarterback on 18.9% of his dropbacks, the ninth lowest in the NFL, while Flores’ 2021 Dolphins sent extra pressure on 39.6%, the second most in the league.

Even the Miami defense in his first season with suspect personnel, probably even worse than current Vikings, blitzed on 31.6%, the 14th most that year. Of course, many blitzes don’t automatically result in a good defense, but it is a first step to making it a more respected unit.

Be Slept
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) catches the ball as Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) defends in the fourth quarter during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Saints 28-25. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Besides the hire at DC, the Vikings also changed the defensive personnel. The whole cornerback group departed, including four players who started games last year. Free agent addition Byron Murphy will take over for Patrick Peterson as the team’s top cornerback while Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth, Mekhi Blackmon, and Joejuan Williams must step up and fill the other two available spots. The emergence of a young player in that group is crucial for the unit’s improvement.

Marcus Davenport replaces the departed Za’Darius Smith as an edge defender, and first-year starter Brian Asamoah is the new linebacker substituting Eric Kendricks. Dalvin Tomlinson, the defensive tackle, was not properly replaced, and it also requires the breakout of a depth player to offset the loss. Last year’s first-round selection Lewis Cine could provide a spark.

The jury is still out if the new unit can match the 2022 team personnel-wis,e but the defense must improve if the Vikings want a shot to compete for a playoff run.

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