One Aspect of Vikings Football Has Arrived and Thrived

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
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It wasn’t immediate, but after a few weeks of hardship and growing pains, it has arrived.

That’s the Minnesota Vikings defense, led by Brian Flores, and the unit is propelling the club to midseason relevance.

One Aspect of Vikings Football Has Arrived and Thrived

The Vikings parted ways with 2022 defensive bossman Ed Donatell four days after the team lost at home in the postseason to the New York Giants, and a couple of weeks later, Flores was onboarded to totally change how the Vikings did business.

Vikings Football Has
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota went from an infamous “bend but don’t break” mantra in 2022 to a scheme that sometimes doesn’t even have defensive linemen on the field. What a world.

Flores fancies blitzing quarterbacks — like all the time — while Donatell’s system did no such thing and basically shied away from opponents until they hit the redzone. The strategy was as frustrating as it was ineffective, utterly exposed in the playoffs against the Giants and making Daniel Jones resemble Lamar Jackson.

Unveils Latest Danielle Hunter
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Flores’ special sauce is multi-pronged, employing Danielle Hunter, whose pass-rushing theatrics sweeten everything. Hunter’s teammate, D.J. Wonnum, has shown up unabashedly in the last month. Then, the middle of the defense — the guts — features two ferocious inside linebackers in Jordan Hicks and rookie Ivan Pace.

After that, the Vikings have more safeties than Skittles in a Halloween bucket, and they all perform efficiently. Camryn Bynum is trending toward a Pro Bowl honor, Josh Metellus is a stud, and Harrison Smith looks 28 again.

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) celebrates with linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) after a sack in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports.

But enough of the name-oriented fluff. The numbers are the claim to fame. Flores is a destroyer of traditional defensive norms, refusing to conform to conventional playcalling. On some plays, every defender is a defensive back or linebacker, truly mind-boggling. And the statistics support his vision.

Here’s the pudding proof:

Vikings Defense,
EPA/Play Ranking,
2023:

Week 1-3 = 26th
Week 4-8 = 7th

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Sean Tucker (44) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Let’s face it — the Vikings defense stunk in the first three games, allowing Baker Mayfield, Jalen Hurts, and Justin Herbert, for the most part, to cook at will. Yet, something changed the following week at the Carolina Panthers and hasn’t since reverted.

Each week, Flores’ defense has steadily improved:

Vikings Defense Ranking,
EPA/Play,
The Progression,
by Week in 2023:

After Week 1: 17th
After Week 2: 19th
After Week 3: 26th
After Week 4: 17th
After Week 5: 21st
After Week 6: 16th
After Week 7: 19th
After Week 8: 12th

Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (11) and Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) talk during warmups prior to the game at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings schedule, through the first eight weeks, was incredibly tough, with the Eagles, Chargers, Chiefs, and 49ers headlining festivities. Fans knew back in May that was a splotchy section. Now, that gauntlet is over — and Minnesota ranked 12th defensively along the way.

With the “easy” part of the schedule afoot — the Falcons, Saints, Broncos, Bears, and Raiders — Flores’ defense has the opportunity to go from maturing on the fly to damn good.


Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.

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