Vikings’ Defense Joins Elite Company

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings pitched their first shutout in six years on Sunday, toppling the Las Vegas Raiders by a score of 3-0 in a survive-and-advance affair.

Minnesota became the first NFL team since 2007 to win a game while scoring three or fewer points.

Vikings’ Defense Joins Elite Company

The last time the Vikings held an opponent scoreless was in 2017, blanking the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers 16-0 on December 23rd at Lambeau Field. Rookie passer Aidan O’Connell was the victim this time, and Minnesota eeked out a true one-score win.

Defense Joins Elite
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

And after the Week 14 victory, which put the Vikings firmly in the driver’s seat for playoff contention, the team’s defense joined elite company. Per EPA/Play, Minnesota now showcases the league’s fifth-best defense. Indeed, within one year, defensive coordinator Brian Flores turned the unit from rags to riches.

Here’s the Top 5 EPA/Play pecking order on defense as of December 11th:

  1. Cleveland Browns (-0.149)
  2. Baltimore Ravens (-0.122)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (-0.112)
  4. New York Jets (-0.089)
  5. Minnesota Vikings (-0.088)
Vikings Should Feast
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports.

It’s worth noting that much of the positive carnage has occurred without starting EDGE defender Marcus Davenport and, recently, linebacker Jordan Hicks. Injuries have beset the Vikings — all over the roster — and at times, it just hasn’t mattered.

When Justin Jefferson was hurt the first time, Minnesota fired off a 5-2 record in his absence. The club is 3-2 without quarterback Kirk Cousins and was 4-4 with him.

How does the enterprise remain afloat? Simple — defense.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

As clumsy as Ed Donatell’s group played much of the time in 2022, the inverse has occurred during Flores’ maiden voyage. The 2022 defense would curiously play poorly during Quarters 1 through 3 while stiffening in the 4th Quarter. In 2023, the defense performs well all the time, minus a couple of bad final drives versus the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears.

Initially in 2023, Minnesota’s defense didn’t look special at all. The first three games were marred by defensive porousness, especially a Week 3 loss at home to the Los Angeles Chargers. Yet, everything changed following the 28-24 defeat to Los Angeles.

Vikings to Showcase
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.

All told, the Flores defense ranks fifth per points allowed, fifth per defense DVOA, fifth per the aforementioned EPA/Play, and 10th in yards allowed. Head coach Kevin O’Connell told his locker room Sunday evening, “Let me just tell you something. This [expletive] defense is a championship defense.”

O’Connell won a Super Bowl with the 2021 Los Angeles Rams, so he knows a little something about the criteria.

And don’t look now, but the Vikings have just that, according to him. Now, fans will wait to see if some combination of Nick Mullens and Joshua Dobbs has the juice at quarterback to lead the offense alongside the championship defense.

Here’s the takeaway stat summarizing the 2023 defense’s odyssey:

Vikings Defense,
Per EPA/Play,

Weeks 1-3 = 26th
Weeks 4-14 = 1st

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