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Detroit Lions Week 5 scouting report: Is the Minnesota Vikings’ defense back?

Could Mike Zimmer be getting the Vikings back to where they were prior to 2020?

Cleveland Browns v Minnesota Vikings John Autey / MediaNews Group / St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings are off to another slow start in 2021, but they’re making it interesting every week. And when you consider that their four opponents thus far have a combined record of 12-4, you could possibly excuse the Vikings’ 1-3 record.

Looking a little deeper, you can definitely see some improvements from last year’s disappointing performance, but there are flaws, too, that could keep this team where it has been for years: mediocre and unable to take the next step.

Of course, that may be plenty to beat a Detroit Lions team still in the infancy of a rebuild. So let’s take a closer look at the Lions Week 5 opponent.

Minnesota Vikings

Last season:

  • 7-9 record (3rd in NFC North)
  • 11th in points scored, 29th in points allowed
  • Overall DVOA: 20th (8th on offense, 18th on defense)

The Vikings we saw last year were not the Vikings were have been accustomed to see. Well, you know, aside from the aggressively mediocre play.

No, I’m talking about the defense. Minnesota went hyper-young on that side of the ball and it did not pay off. The Vikings allowed 29.7 points per game last year—their highest points allowed since 2013, the year before Mike Zimmer took over. Since Zim has headed the Vikings, their defense has been downright dominant. Take a look:

2014: 21.4 PPG allowed (11th)
2015: 18.9 (5th)
2016: 19.2 (6th)
2017: 15.8 (1st)
2018: 21.3 (9th)
2019: 18.9 (5th)

So, yeah, 2020 was odd.

On the plus side, the Vikings barely missed Stefon Diggs after rookie Justin Jefferson looked like an absolute beast. His 1,400 yards set the rookie record for most receiving yards. Throw in a 1,557-yard season from Dalvin Cook, and the Vikings were rolling on offense.

2021 offseason

Key free agent additions: DE Stephen Weatherly, DE Everson Griffen, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Nick Vigil, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Bashaud Breeland, S Xavier Woods,

Key losses: TE Kyle Rudolph, OT Riley Reiff, RB Mike Boone, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Jaleel Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, LB Eric Wilson, CB Jeff Gladney, S Anthony Harris

Key trade: TE Chris Herndon (acquired), CB Mike Hughes (sent to Chiefs)

2021 NFL draft picks:

Round 1: OT Christian Darrisaw
Round 3: QB Kellen Monds
Round 3: LB Chazz Surratt
Round 3: G Wyatt Davis
Round 3: DE Patrick Jones II
Round 4: RB Kene Nwangwu
Round 4: CB Camryn Bynum
Round 4: DE Janarius Robinson
Round 5: WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Round 5: TE Zach Davidson
Round 6: DT Jaylen Twyman

The Vikings spent nearly all of their free agency spending money on the defense, specifically some veteran players. Weatherly (27 years old), Tomlinson (27), Richardson (30), and Peterson (31) brought some much-needed experience to the young crew.

Meanwhile, the Vikings gave up on two high draft picks in the secondary. 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes was sent to the Chiefs for just a swap of a seventh for a sixth-round pick. 2020 first-round pick Jeff Gladney was straight released after a domestic violence incident.

Coaching changes:

Lost:

  • Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak (retired)
  • WR coach Andrew Janocko (promoted to QB coach)
  • OL coach Rick Dennison (moved to “senior offensive advisor)
  • DBs coach Daronte Jones (LSU defensive coordinator)
  • ST coordinator Marwan Maalouf

Gained:

  • Offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak (promoted from QB coach)
  • WR coach Keenan McCardell (formerly Jaguars WR coach)
  • OL coach Phil Rauscher (promoted from assistant OL coach)
  • DBs coach Karl Scott (former Alabama DBs coach)
  • ST coordinator Ryan Ficken (promoted from assistant ST coordinator)

Most of the Vikings’ coaching changes were internal. Gary Kubiak’s job as offensive coordinator was assumed by his son (what are the chances?!?!). However, the Vikings made changes at special teams—where they ranked 31st by DVOA.

2021 season thus far (1-3)

Week 1: Lost to Bengals, 24-27 (OT)
Week 2: Lost to Cardinals, 33-34
Week 3: Beat Seahawks, 30-17
Week 4: Lost to Browns, 7-14

Stats:

  • 17th in points scored (23.5 PPG), 11th in points against (23.0 PPG)
  • 16th overall in DVOA (14th on offense, 14th on defense, 9th on special teams)

The Vikings have had a couple of tough losses—none worse than their Week 2 loss to the currently undefeated Arizona Cardinals that featured a missed 37-yard field goal from the Vikings as time expired.

They’ve hung with some good opponents, but 1-3 is 1-3.

Offensively, the Vikings are still looking strong, particularly in the passing game. Last week’s drought aside, Kirk Cousins was putting up MVP-style numbers. The duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen remain as potent (565 yards, 7 TDs) as ever.

The running game is still getting its footing, as Minnesota is averaging just 4.2 yards per carry. That speaks to some serious offensive line issues the team is going through.

Defensively, it’s starting to look like Minnesota is back to its normal self. Though they struggled in the first two weeks, the Vikings have allowed just a single touchdown in the past six quarters.

If they’re vulnerable anywhere on defense, it appears to be on the ground. They’re currently ceding 4.8 yards per carry, which ranks 28th in the league. There’s more bad news for that unit when it comes to...

Key injuries: WR Chad Beebe (IR), WR Bisi Johnson (IR), TE Irv Smith Jr. (IR), LB Anthony Barr (knee), Dalvin Cook (ankle), DT Michael Pierce (elbow), OT Christian Darrisaw (groin)

The Vikings have managed to avoid major injuries for most of the season. However, it looks like Minnesota could be without nose tackle Michael Pierce, who is one of the team’s best run defenders. One report suggests his elbow injury could keep him out a couple of weeks.

Linebacker Anthony Barr has yet to make his 2021 debut, but the Vikings expect him to play this week. Just our luck, right? Maybe he’ll be rusty.

Dalvin Cook has been fighting an ankle injury the past few weeks. He finished last week’s game, but he only played in 49 percent of snaps, so he may still be limited this week, even if he plays.

The Vikings' first-round pick Christian Darrisaw chose to get groin surgery after being drafted but is nearing his return. He was active for the first time last week but played in just one special teams snap. It’s unclear if he will play left tackle any time soon, but for now, expect Rashod Hill to start.

Biggest strength: Passing game

The Vikings rank:

  • 7th in pass offense DVOA
  • 7th in passer rating
  • t-5th in passing touchdowns

Biggest weakness: Offensive line

Much like the Bears last week, the Vikings were dominated by the Browns’ defensive line on Sunday. The Athletic published an entire article on how horrible their performance was, and it wasn’t just an isolated incident.

Currently, the Vikings are 29th in PFF’s pass-blocking grade and 21st in run blocking grade.

But last week, we were saying many of the same things about the Bears' offensive line. Can the Lions actually take advantage this week, especially without Romeo Okwara?

Vegas odds for Sunday: Vikings by 7