We can all agree that 2013 was a miserable year for Vikings fans who had been largely spoiled in years past by the emergence of a respectable defensive unit.
The team finished last or close to last in the league’s major defensive categories – giving up 30 points per game, 398 total yards per game and allowing opponents to convert on 44 percent of third downs. Blown leads and fourth quarter comebacks were all too commonplace.
For those of us who grew up watching the Vikings in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the performance was a throwback to a different era. Those squads, with some success, routinely poured resources into electrifying offenses while regarding defense as little more than a cost of doing business. Equilibrium ensued where the offense’s ability to score enough to compensate for the defensive flaws produced a stream of winning seasons.
But the Chilly-ball era, beginning in 2006, brought the opposite – a defense heavy approach spiced with a painfully bad offense. The ensuing years brought forth a balance between the two until everything imploded last year.
But the good news is that there’s nowhere to go but up, and the Vikings’ league-worst defense is now being reworked into an intimidating, disciplined unit in the mold of its hard-nosed new head coach Mike Zimmer – or so we hope.
By securing the home-grown DE Everson Griffen for the long-term and signing free agent defensive tackle Linval Joseph, the defense’s new identity will be centered around a newly fortified defensive line that returns Shariff Floyd and Brian Robison.
The crucial variable here is how well Griffen pans out after signing a monster long-term deal. Generally, players are signed to deals based on their past performances, but the Vikings are betting heavily on Griffen’s potential to excel in Zimmer’s new system.
Considering that Michael Johnson, one of the top ends on the market and a former Zimmer underling in Cincinnati, was signed by Tampa Bay to a similar deal, he will be the benchmark by which the Griffen deal is measured.
Questions still remain at linebacker and in the secondary, with only a handful of starting caliber guys – Chad Greenway, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith – on the roster. Focusing on finding a complement to Greenway is a priority, but there are, encouragingly, guys such as Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti on the roster eager to prove themselves – though it’s unclear if any of them are long-term solutions.
Having missed out on the top cornerbacks in free agency, the Vikings now turn to the draft to rebuild their league-worst secondary. Unfortunately, there is not a good track record here, with recent picks like Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and Mistral Raymond failing to live up to expectations.
But the resigning of QB Matt Cassel relieves the team of its dire need to draft a quarterback in the first round, and that number eight pick can potentially be used to add another level of playmaking and star power to a defensive unit that was painfully lacking in both categories last year.