Analyst Claims Vikings Are the Best in the Business — in 1 Area

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The Vikings just had a season with an impressive 13-4 record, despite having a rookie head coach. Kevin O’Connell and his team won because of a great new culture built around positivity, and he infused the clutch gene.

Minnesota managed to win all 11 one-score games in the regular season, an outstanding feat that won’t be replicated. However, the new head coach put extreme focus on what he called situational masters, the play in the clutch was important for him, and it paid off. The team is not just great in the clutch.

Analyst Claims Vikings Are the Best in the Business — in 1 Area

Analyst Claims Vikings Are the Best in the Business
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores in Miami Gardens, September 15, 2019. © Allen Eyestone via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

The strength of the Vikings is, of course, the offense. Justin Jefferson is a record-breaking receiver and is still getting better. The connection between him and his QB Kirk Cousins is special. Cousins has shown phenomenal resiliency. He is getting hit regularly, in fact, even more than any other QB in the league, and is still delivering perfect strikes.

His offensive tackles, Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill, are arguably the best duo in the league, and he has multiple dangerous weapons at his disposal. When Jefferson is covered, there are still T.J. Hockenson, K.J. Osborn, and the new addition, Jordan Addison.

The defensive unit was a disaster in 2022, but the Vikings took action and replaced defensive coordinator Ed Donatell after just one season with the club. Former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores took over. He has some personnel questions, as the whole cornerback group departed, just like defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and linebacker Eric Kendricks. Some young guys must step up for a potential defensive turnaround to work. However, one position group is elite.

ESPN analyst Mike Clay ranked all edge rushing groups in the league, and surprisingly, the Vikes rank first.

Many analysts around the NFL praised the addition of Marcus Davenport. He is a disruptive player. Fans questioned the move, as Davenport recorded only half a sack in 2022, but sack numbers don’t always tell the full story, as he fired up many QB pressures and couldn’t get home because the passer just got rid of the ball. Za’Darius Smith had a similar problem in the second half of the season. He was still fantastic but couldn’t match the sack numbers from the start of the campaign.

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In addition, Davenport is an excellent run defender, something he has in common with Danielle Hunter, his new teammate. Hunter’s future with the organization is a mystery. He is entering the final year of his contract and is set to receive a paycheck worth only $5.5 million, a laughable number for a player of his caliber. Expect contract news to break soon. If they can’t find common ground, the front office must engage in trade talks, but that would complicate the cap situation.

A similar situation surrounds Smith. The 2022 free-agent addition is underpaid and wants more money, so he requested a trade earlier in the offseason. He’ll make $12.5 million in 2023. Because some of his money already hit the books in March, Smith will not be released. The team will either keep him with or without a raise or trade him away.

If the trio stays together, an argument can be made that they are, indeed, the best edge group in the league. The fun part is that they can co-exist, even if there are mostly only two of them on the field. Teams like the Eagles have many players they can rotate to keep the players fresh. The Vikings often gave Hunter or Smith a breather last season. Now, Davenport can come in instead of DJ Wonnum and Patrick Jones. Both are decent backups, but they can’t match Davenport’s level of play.

Vikings Defense Could Soon Receive Help
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Hunter played 906 snaps, Smith 771, and the duo of Jones and Wonnum recorded a total of 868 plays. The new rotation could be scary. Davenport is also a bigger edge defender. He might get some run inside to allow all three on the field simultaneously. That is also a specialty of Smith, who can bully guards.

The aforementioned Jones and Wonnum would be asked to play their big snap totals if one of the top guys departed before the season opener in September or in case of an injury. They have shown flashes in the pass rush. Their problem is the run stop. It should be their primary focus to earn more playing time.

The advantage of having a strong pass rush is that it helps out the secondary in the passing game, as the QB has to get rid of the ball quicker. That is significant for the 2023 Vikings and their shaky cornerback group. One of the young guys Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth, and rookie Mekhi Blackmon will be a starting CB barring any unexpected acquisitions. It’s certainly comforting to know the struggling Vikings’ defense is good at something. Flores can be creative with that kind of disruption up front.

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