The biggest move of this offseason for the Vikings came in the days leading up to Super Bowl LVII. They weren’t playing in the game and still managed to make news that week by somehow convincing Brian Flores to be their new defensive coordinator.
The move was viewed as a coup for the Vikings and brought a lot of optimism to Minnesota in the process. Not only did the presence of Flores seem to outshine the arrival of free agents like cornerback Byron Murphy and pass rusher Marcus Davenport, he also seemed to singlehandedly nullify the departures of fan favorites like cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Eric Kendricks.
As long as the Vikings had Flores leading the charge, they were bound to succeed, right? He was going to bring a new scheme fully equipped with exotic blitz packages that would instantly improve a unit that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season.
Not quite. The defense hasn’t shown much improvement so far this season with the Vikings sitting at 0-3. Though the process might look different on game days with Flores willing to send pressure on a regular basis, the results have been more or less the same, with opposing teams able to move the chains with relative ease.
Somewhere out there, former defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has to be laughing to himself. He became the scapegoat last season with large sections of the fan base hating on him because of the passiveness of his defense. He can feel vindicated knowing that the Vikings are facing similar issues this season in spite of their new-found aggressiveness.
Truthfully, this is a flawed defense for the Vikings, regardless of if it’s Flores or Donatell calling plays. That won’t change until general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah brings in the personnel capable of making plays.
Never mind that star pass rusher Danielle Hunter is still unblockable 1 on 1. Never mind that young safeties Cam Bynum and Josh Metellus seem ready and willing to take the torch from veteran safety Harrison Smith. Never mind that rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. looks like a steal as an undrafted free agent.
There are major weaknesses for the defense, with most of the mismatches happening up front. It’s hard for the Vikings to win on any given play when they are often losing in the trenches as soon as the ball is snapped.
The most concerning thing for head coach Kevin O’Connell, however, has to be the fact that the struggles on defense haven’t been confined to a particular area of the game. It’s been a total system failure en route to allowing 1,147 yards of offense, with the malfunction varying on a weekly basis.
In the Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Vikings dominated in the early stages before allowing journeyman quarterback Baker Mayfield to lead a pair of lengthy drives later in the game. It culminated with Mayfield rushing for a first down, then throwing a dart to receiver Chris Godwin to put the game on ice.
In the Week 2 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings set out to slow down star quarterback Jalen Hurts, which opened up gaping holes for running back D’Andre Swift. He finished with 28 carries for 175 yards largely because he was able to gain chunk yardage virtually every time he touched the ball.
In the Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Vikings had a game plan of blitzing the heck out of star quarterback Justin Herbert. The only problem was they rarely got to him and Herbert completed 40-of-47 pass attempts for a whopping 405 yards. Meanwhile, receiver Keenan Allen ran wide open in the secondary, finishing with an astounding 18 catches for 215 yards.
As much as Flores deserves some criticism for his lack of adjustments to this point, it’s almost as if he’s been playing with both hands tied behind his back the whole time. He simply can’t do his thing right now with some of the players he has at his disposal.
That makes it pretty easy for opposing teams. They can do pretty much whatever they want on offense until further notice.
As for O’Connell, he seemed to be grasping at straws Monday at TCO Performance Center when asked about his defense. He noted the Vikings will likely have a specific game plan each week tailored to stop whatever the opposing team does best on offense.
What do the Vikings do best on defense? That’s a good question.