Veteran Vikings Defender to Face Decreasing Snap Numbers

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Minnesota’s defense looked a lot scarier under the watch of defensive coordinator Brian Flores than it did in the previous season, with Ed Donatell calling the shots and opposing passers, even the subpar ones like Mac Jones, Daniel Jones, or Mike White, easily marched up and down the field. The Vikings improved to 13th in points and 16th in yards allowed after finishing 28th and 31st in 2022.

Veteran Vikings Defender to Face Decreasing Snap Numbers

Veteran Vikings Defender to Face Decreasing Snap Numbers
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For a while, it looked like the defensive unit would finish in the top ten in most metrics and even threaten the five best defenses in the league. However, the group faded late in the season, allowing an average of 30 points per game in the last four contests.

There were various reasons for that. It seemed like the NFL figured out Flores’ defensive scheme. Targeting the flat, a common weakness of his system, and throwing deep when picking up the blitzes completely killed the group’s vibe. That’s not unusual at all in the NFL; teams always solve opponents; it’s now on Flores to develop his counter.

Another reason for the fading defense was that a few guys got hurt, and others started to feel fatigued. With Marcus Davenport on ice all season, D.J. Wonnum played 828 defensive snaps. Danielle Hunter logged 1,006—a ridiculous number for an edge defender. Aging safety Harrison Smith was on the field on 1,113 plays, second on the team.

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One guy who logged way too many reps was defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. As a run-stopping nose tackle north of 300 lbs, it is nearly malpractice to feature him on 839 defensive snaps, or over 74% of the plays.

He is a run-stopper who shouldn’t be on the field on obvious passing downs. Someone who can get after the QB should replace him on the field in those scenarios. The problem, however, was that Minnesota had no interior pass-rusher on the team.

According to Pro Football Focus, Phillips played the 10th-most snaps among interior defenders. The other nine are hybrids, players who can provide pass-rush and help against the run. The veteran tabulated 21 QB pressures. No other defensive tackle among the 24 guys with the most snaps had less than 35.

Minnesota didn’t employ any difference-makers up front. Phillips was clearly the best bet. Jonathan Bullard, Dean Lowry, Jaquelin Roy, Khyiris Tonga, and Sheldon Day are solid depth players, but they shouldn’t be asked to play big snap numbers.

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He was severely misused, and the Vikings know it. Head coach Kevin O’Connell was asked about the position group at the annual league meeting.

Anytime you’re going into free agency, we went into this kind of mindset of we really wanted to try to find a couple impactful players in the front if we could. We made a run at some certain guys in free agency, but in the end, between what we were able to add on the edges, and then you really kind of supplement that defensive line room with a lot of different skill sets whether you’re thinking about a former first-round pick in Jerry Tillery, we bring back Jonathan Bullard, HP (Harrison Phillips) had a great year, probably played a little bit too much for us. We’d like to bring that snap count down a little bit.

JRoy (Jayquelin Roy) is still coming off what I thought was a productive rookie year, real flashes of production, but we need to see him take that next step. In that room, the list goes on and on and on, and we can’t forget about the draft. I think there’s going to be some really impactful options, potentially throughout the depth of the draft.

Kevin O’Connell

The Vikings parted ways with most of the guys in that room; remaining are Phillips, Roy, and Bullard. Veterans Jonah Williams and Jerry Tillery were added. Tillery is a solid pass-rusher, which should give Phillips some more rest. GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah failed to lure one of the top guys to Minnesota, potentially because of the absurd salaries on the DT market.

in Particular Rookie
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Minnesota has been linked to defensive tackle Byron Murphy (Texas), but that is only relevant if the organization fails to trade up for a quarterback. He would be a primary target with the 11th overall pick. Besides that, some solid options will be available later in the draft.

Last year’s pick, Roy, could be in line for more work. He logged 96 defensive snaps and collected eight tackles, one tackle for loss, and one QB hit.

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Phillips posted career numbers across the board, with 92 tackles and three sacks, but he also had a career-high of 839 plays. That number should decrease to the 694 he had in 2022 and perhaps even further.

At age 28, Phillips is one of the better run defenders in the entire league, but the Vikings shouldn’t force him into the role of an every-down defensive tackle. Instead, the focus should be resting him on passing downs and keeping him fresh to do his thing on running downs.

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