The Minnesota Vikings had one of the league’s worst defenses in 2013, but the hire of defensive-minded Mike Zimmer as the team’s head coach is a step in the right direction. The Vikings elected to let Jared Allen leave for Chicago, but the new front four of Brian Robison, Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen will be the team’s most important unit in 2014.
Although they spent the ninth overall pick on outside linebacker Anthony Barr, the Vikings have a weak linebacker corps that will likely feature Barr, an aging Chad Greenway and the underwhelming Jasper Brinkley as well. This is a unit that’s likely the team’s weakest heading into the preseason, trailed only by the secondary which is made up of Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn and whomever wins the starting strong safety role.
The defense as a whole didn’t get much better this offseason, but the defensive line should be one of the best in the NFC North with the ability to carry this team. Putting pressure on the quarterback is a gameplan Zimmer lives by, and with numerous pass-rushing players on the line, opposing quarterbacks will rarely feel comfortable in the pocket. The added pressure on the quarterback will help both the linebackers and secondary as they won’t be forced to stay in coverage all that long, which routinely was the reason the Vikings gave up crucial yards late in games, namely to the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns.
While the starting four on the line will be the most crucial to the Vikings’ success in 2014, the depth at the position further shows the importance of putting pressure on the quarterback in Zimmer’s defense. The team signed the versatile Corey Wootton early in free agency, and also added defensive end Scott Crichton in the third round of May’s draft. Both players are talented enough to play anywhere on the line, making them nearly invaluable in Zimmer’s system, and players to keep an eye on this season as well.
Last season with the Cincinnati Bengals, Zimmer worked with a defensive roster somewhat similar to the one he’s constructed in Minnesota. His D-line was headlined by nose tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Michael Johnson, and although the former only played in six games, the Bengals’ defense, consisting of a weak secondary, was a top-10 defense in the league that held opponents to just 19 points per game, fifth best in the NFL.
From years of experience as a defensive coordinator, Zimmer has picked up plenty of secrets, and among them is how to cover up weaknesses and put pressure on the quarterback. That will be necessary in 2014 as the Vikings have a weak linebacker corps, but a defensive line that should bring pressure from the edge as well as the middle, making it tough for opposing quarterbacks to scan the field for long.
The Vikings gave up an average of 30 points per game in 2013, which made it impossible for this squad to finish with a winning record given the problems on offense. But 2014 should be different, as a new coach and added defensive talent will give them the ability to stop, and possibly even shut down opposing offenses. This will make it much easier for the offense to perform at its own pace and adjust to life with a rookie quarterback under center; but the true success of this team starts with the front four on the defensive side of the ball.