Why Firing Donatell Is Not the Solution for Vikings Defense

The Minnesota Vikings season ended Sunday with a loss against the New York Giants — an embarrassing performance by the defense was a huge reason for the defeat. The offense, led by Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, ran up and down the field all game long, resulting in 431 yards gained and an advantage in time of possession, as they had the ball for 33 minutes and 26 seconds.

Minnesota’s defense forced only two punts without causing a turnover. That is not a winning formula for the 2022 Vikings. The team was 1-4 when they didn’t create any turnovers.

Why Firing Donatell Is Not the Solution for Vikings Defense

Why Firing Donatell Is Not the Solution for Vikings Defense
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Turnovers were the main reason the “bend don’t break” approach worked, at least sometimes. Only the Lions allowed more yards in the regular season, and only the Lions and the Bears gave up more points. The Vikings had fewer yards than the opponent in 11 of the 18 games. Their record was 6-5, an impressive number. When the Vikings had more yards, they won all seven games. Winning that way is not sustainable.

The reasons for the lack of success on the defensive side of the ball are debatable, and the debates have already started. Most fans blame the defensive coordinator, a normal and easy target. However, the blame should be shared if a coach doesn’t have the right personnel for his defense.

The Vikings 2023 Draft Will
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah started last offseason with an aging roster with holes all over the defense. The reason for that was the lack of success in the draft in the last half dozen years. Departed decision-makers Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer somehow failed to identify difference-makers on the defensive side.

In addition to failing to add good players, the players in the building started to come close or even pass the 30-year mark. While it is not an exact science, and all players are different, a dropoff in athleticism and production usually happens at about that age.

Harrison Smith will turn 34 years old in a couple of weeks. He is still a good player but no longer the best safety in the game, something Vikings fans could say about him for years. Saquon Barkley badly juked him in the postseason, an unusual play for the potential Hall of Famer but a good example of his decline.

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Peterson is 32 years old and has to run with young and fast players on every snap. He started the season great but got picked on later in the year, especially by the Giants.

Starting linebacker Jordan Hicks is 30 years old. In February, Eric Kendricks will turn 31 years old. The problem with linebackers is that they have to possess the speed to run “from sideline to sideline,” a famous term but very important.

They have to get from the middle of the field into the flat in a heartbeat. Hicks and Kendricks are limited in that ability at this stage of their careers. Young players, like rookie Brian Asamoah, will steal their jobs soon. It could, and should, happen as soon as 2023.

In the NFL in 2023, teams need speed on the defensive side of the ball to stop the other team. Offenses are getting more creative, and players are getting faster. The Vikings started bringing in fast defenders last offseason.

The Vikings Have Oodles of Needs in Next Year's Draft
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The first draft pick of the new regime was one of the fastest safeties in the league, Lewis Cine. He was not ready to play this season and then got hurt. However, the front office hand-picked him for Ed Donatell’s defense. The same can be said about Andrew Booth, Brian Asamoah, and Akayleb Evans. Vikings’ GM Adofo-Mensah called the project a “competitive rebuild,” and a rebuild isn’t done in just one year.

Firing defensive coordinator Ed Donatell would create a total mess, considering it’s hard to change defensive systems. Doing that in consecutive years would be a big mistake. The players are drafted for a specific scheme and are coached to learn that system.

The Vikings have a defensive system and now need the right players for it to work. Draft capital and cap space will be, once again, heavily used on that side of the ball. It’s also likely that multiple aging veterans will not return to Minnesota for another season.

However, his defense has not worked, and he will have to get better results sooner rather than later, but Donatell should get a second year with better-suited personnel.

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