Vikings on Track for Big Defensive Boost

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Before last weekend, the Minnesota Vikings defense was the trustworthy aspect of the organization, ranking in the Top 5 per every credible metric on Brian Flores’ side of the ball.

And the group started wonderfully at Paycor Stadium, taming the Bengals to the tune of three points in three quarters.

Vikings on Track for Big Defensive Boost

But then the wheels fell off, Flores’ defense allowed three straight 70+ yards drives for touchdowns, and the Vikings blundered away a 14-point lead. Cincinnati won 27-24, sending the Vikings to a 7-7 record and right into the middle of Wildcard playoff what-ifs.

Encouragingly, though, one man is on track to return soon — linebacker Jordan Hicks.

Track for Big
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Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling tweeted Monday, “Kevin O’Connell said the Vikings will open Jordan Hicks’ window to practice starting tomorrow. Hicks is ‘very excited to get back on the field,’ O’Connell said. They’ll monitor him through the week and see if he can return Sunday.”

For the most part, Minnesota’s defense certainly didn’t struggle sans Hicks, but the unit will take all the help it can get with a playoff push afoot in the remaining three games. Hicks was injured in a win over the New Orleans Saints one month ago, and undrafted rookie linebacker Ivan Pace slid into a full-time role accordingly. Troy Dye and Anthony Barr have manned other linebacking snaps during Hicks’ absence. Pace, in particular, has continued to take the league by storm in Year One.

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Head coach Kevin O’Connell said last week about Hicks’ comeback, “Jordan is probably ahead of schedule when considering the severity of what we felt in the immediate aftermath of his injury.” So, Monday’s announcement is a little bit of fruition.

Statistically, the Vikings’ defense hasn’t relented in Hicks’ absence, now ranking seventh leaguewide per EPA/Play. In fact, in Week 14 at the Las Vegas Raiders, Minnesota pitched a shutout, its first since 2017. The group plummeted back to earth against the Bengals, but such is life, and perhaps Hicks’ eventual return will help prevent late-game meltdowns.

Brian Flores Weighs
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It’s also worth noting that Hicks isn’t guaranteed to play this weekend. His practice window merely opened, meaning he’s set to return soon — not necessarily against the Lions on Christmas Eve. In fact, it took the Vikings weeks to fully activate Justin Jefferson following a recent IR stint.

Pro Football Focus considers Hicks the NFL’s 18th-best linebacker through 15 weeks with a 76.7 grade.

The Vikings Top Defensive Performers at Commanders, per PFF
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He was sidelined by compartment syndrome, a dangerous ailment that affects muscle pressure.

The Lions are favored by three to chip off the Vikings in Week 16, with or without Hicks.

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