3 Vikings X-Factors Will Be Tested in Week 1
The Minnesota Vikings open their 2023 regular season with a home game, facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last season, the purple team had an excellent start to their season with a dominant win over the Green Bay Packers. Head coach Kevin O’Connell wants to repeat that Week 1 success in pursuit of back-to-back NFC North titles.
3 Vikings X-Factors Will Be Tested in Week 1
Tampa Bay is coming off a disappointing season, and their 8-9 record barely won them the division. Tom Brady and his team were bounced in the wild-card round, just like the Vikes. A few Vikings players will be essential to tie the Lions for the lead in the NFC North.
1. Ed Ingram
A lot has been said about the second-year offensive guard. The 2022 second-round pick was expected to solve the interior line problems coming out of the draft but that hasn’t happened. In the meantime, the cliff between the tackles and the two guards and center Garrett Bradbury even increased.
The Vikings employ possibly the best tackle duo in the NFL but one of the worst interior trio. While the offense was still decent despite those struggles, they need to be better in the opening contest, as the Buccaneers will attack that weakness with defensive tackle Vita Vea.
Vea is the anchor of the defense up front, providing elite run-stopping ability like Linval Joseph in his prime, and he added 6.5 sacks last season, leading all defenders on his team. He will go right after Bradbury and Ingram, the two weak spots on the line, and his head coach, Todd Bowles, will try to isolate him on one of those guys.
If Ingram’s struggles continue, it will be a long day for Alexander Mattison and Kirk Cousins because they will have to run for their lives right after getting the ball. It’s a great test for Ingram to find out if the sophomore jump indeed happened or if that was just wishful thinking from fans and decision-makers.
2. Akayleb Evans
Akayleb Evans is another sophomore who will play a significant role. Just like the interior offensive line, the secondary has been a huge problem in the state of Minnesota for years. But unlike the line, the Vikings actually invested resources to solve the problem in the 2023 offseason, signing Byron Murphy and drafting Mekhi Blackmon in the third round.
However, the Buccaneers have two excellent wideouts – Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Murphy can only cover one, the other guy will either line up in the slot or outside against Evans, and the coaching staff of the road team will try to attack the weaknesses, so Mike Evans is a good bet to be lined up across Akayleb Evans.
He had a couple of promising outings in his rookie campaign, especially against Washington’s top receiver, Terry McLaurin, but missed the majority of the season with two separate concussions and is still unproven, logging only 162 snaps on defense. The pass defense was a huge annoyance last season, and that needs to be fixed to come away with a victory.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield has shown the ability to get hot if the defense lets him, and that, in combination with fantastic weapons in the passing game, is a dangerous combination against a suspect coverage unit. It’s on Evans to make some plays and prove that his matchup with McLaurin wasn’t a fluke.
3. Marcus Davenport
Danielle Hunter and his contract situation was a big deal this offseason, but the Vikings and the player resolved those issues. He is ready to go and will likely do his thing and dominate. Just like the purple team, Tampa Bay has a struggling offensive line. They had problems keeping Tom Brady clean last season and underwent more changes this year.
Tristan Wirfs, All-Pro right tackle, moved to the left side and will likely line up in front of Marcus Davenport, as Hunter has been playing on the left side for the majority of his career. Wirfs is a great player in both run blocking and pass protection, but it will be crucial for the Vikings to pressure Mayfield and help out their secondary that way.
Davenport has been a disruptive player in his career, but he aims to make another step this year to cash in the big backs next offseason after his sack production dipped to 0.5 in 2022, although he still provided valuable pressures. The problem is that Wirfs can shut down good pass-rushers, but the Vikings need to have their most expensive free agent signing make some splash plays and show why he was worth that kind of money.
If he can at least draw his personal matchup with Wirfs, the Vikings have a good chance in the game.
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