Unsung Vikings Defender Has Been Excellent

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Brian Flores was hired to revitalize the defense that was a horrible unit for three straight seasons, two under Mike Zimmer and one with Ed Donatell overseeing them. Commonly ranked among the worst defenses in the league in various categories and metrics, Flores has turned around his team in a few weeks despite doubts that the personnel was not good enough to fix it.

Unsung Vikings Defender Has Been Excellent

Some of the players have received praise. Danielle Hunter is finally getting some recognition as he leads the NFL in sacks through the first eight weeks of the season, and veteran safety Harrison Smith has been turning back the clock at age 34. But nobody is talking about another key piece of the defense. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips has been a true difference-maker on the defensive line.

Unsung Vikings Defender Has Been Excellent
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He was signed in 2022 to defend the run, which he has been doing ever since. With Dalvin Tomlinson playing right next to him last season, he didn’t get the credit he deserved. After Tomlinson left in free agency for Cleveland, Phillips took over the nose tackle role.

And he has been great in that role. The Next Gen Stats Analytics Team compiled a list of the ten best nose tackles in the NFL, and Phillips ranks sixth behind Dexter Lawrence, Jarran Reed, Grady Jarrett, former Viking Michael Pierce, and Vita Vea. Jarrett, who the Vikings would have faced on Sunday, is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Phillips has the highest run-stop rate (8.4%) from a nose tackle alignment since entering the league in 2018 (min. 500 defensive snaps). His arm length (nearly 34 inches) is an asset when reaching for shifty running backs in the trenches.

Initially drafted by the Bills, Phillips is in his second season with the Vikings, having signed a three-year, $19.5 million deal during the 2022 offseason. He leads the league in run stops (23) and run-stop rate (10.3%) when aligned as a nose tackle — no other player has eclipsed 9.0 percent (min 100 defensive snaps).

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The defensive front is not the most talented group in the league, but the results against the run have been fabulous regardless of talent. Minnesota ranks second in EPA/play on running downs since Week 3. They struggled to stop the Eagles in Week 2 but have been excellent since. That included a game against the 49ers, an elite rushing offense. Christian McCaffrey was limited to 45 yards on 15 carries.

Of course, Phillips isn’t doing it alone. The guys next to him play well against the run, too. That includes defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Dean Lowry, just like backups Khyiris Tonga and Jaquelin Roy—the edge rushers Hunter and D.J. Wonnum also deserve praise for setting the edges, and linebackers Ivan Pace and Jordan Hicks help as well.

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Phillips, 27, has arguably outperformed his contract and was a wonderful signing. Bringing him in was one of the first personnel moves Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made, and it has been perhaps his best one. He is under contract for one more season and will continue to be a foundational piece in the middle of the defensive line.

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