The Minnesota Vikings currently sit 0-3, despite Kirk Cousins leading the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes. Their defense was a sieve last year, and they completely changed personnel and brought in a new defensive coordinator to try and prevent a repeat. Brian Flores has a radically different defensive scheme than his predecessor Ed Donatell, but the results are more of the same.

There are 3 big differences

1)Personnel usage. Donatell used a Dime+ package (6 or more defensive backs) a meager 1% of the time last season, while Flores is using a Dime+ package 28% of the time.

2)Pre-snap look. Donatell used a two-high shell (showing 2 safeties at the deepest level) 67% of the time, while Flores is using a two-high shell only 23% of the time.

3)Blitz Rate (plays with more than 4 rushers). Donatell had a 22% blitz rate, while Flores has a 64% blitz rate. The last 3 games have the highest average number of rushers per play since the beginning of 2020.

Donatell did send a little more heat towards the end of 2022, but nearly all of that upwards tail along the average line in 2022 is due to the 2023 Vikings. The Vikings defense sent an astounding average of roughly 5.5 rushers per play against the Chargers. The results? The Chargers went 41/48 (85%) for 454 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, and only 1 sack. Oof.

This begs the question of whether the increased blitz rate generated more pressure?

The Vikings standard pressure rate has been steadily declining since early 2021 and has not been impressive so far in 2023. The Vikings rank 31st (next-to-last) in the NFL in Pressure Rate this season and rank 30th in Pass Rushing Total Points Above Average.

The pressure isn’t the only underwhelming stat as the defense currently ranks 27th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed. The Vikings are just 1 of 3 teams allowing 250+ passing yards a game and 120+ rushing yards per game. One of the more surprising stats is their lack of improvement in man coverage.

Despite a “man coverage-heavy” perception around Flores, the Vikings haven’t increased their use of man coverage significantly (23% to 27%), and the opposing offenses are actually finding more success against the 2023 Vikings man coverage compared to last season. Opposing offenses have a Success Rate of 55% this season against Minnesota’s man coverage (ranks 31st), compared to 44% last season (20th).

A fairly-comprehensive defensive personnel overhaul took place in the offseason, but in order for that to be successful, the players next up need to step up. Akayleb Evans has played almost every defensive snap for the Vikings this season, but hasn’t played very well, giving up multiple touchdowns, a QB Rating Against of 136, and -1.4 Total Points Above Replacement. The rest of the highly-valued additions over the last 2 seasons have barely seen the field (stud Ivan Pace Jr. was undrafted and has been a rare bright spot).

Below is the number of defensive snaps each player has had in each game this season.

Player Buccaneers Eagles Chargers Total Defensive Snaps
Mekhi Blackmon 15 14 18 47
Brian Asamoah 2 14 0 16
Jaquelin Roy 0 0 9 9
Marcus Davenport 0 4 0 4
Lewis Cine 0 0 0 0
Jay Ward 0 0 0 0
Andrew Booth Jr. 0 0 0 0

While injuries have factored in, the majority of the bench-riding time has been because the players have not performed well. It’s very hard to look at the Vikings 2022 and 2023 draft classes and pronounce them “immediately impactful.” While it is too early to fully evaluate the 2022 draft class (and way too early to evaluate the 2023 draft class), the Vikings surely were hoping for more impact from their defensive players.

The Vikings offense isn’t blameless by any means. The turnovers have been an absolute backbreaker, injuries along the offensive line have caused problems, and red-zone struggles have stalled the Vikings as well, but the defense continues to be a massive issue, and their draft capital wasn’t maximized. Jordan Addison is doing exactly what was expected of him, a nice piece to the offense, but he hasn’t transformed them into an offensive juggernaut. Joey Porter Jr. on the other hand, has looked impressive with the Steelers in his playing time and would’ve helped shore up the cornerback position.

The season is long, and there is still time, but with playing 2 of the best teams in football in the next 4 weeks, followed by a trip to Lambeau, the Vikings are entering a crucial stretch in their schedule. If they limp through the next stretch, their season will be in real danger with a difficult final month to the season to look forward to. The preseason prediction of 9-8 without a playoff appearance looks more and more destined if the performance on the field doesn’t improve.