The recycled narratives surrounding the Minnesota Vikings nowadays sound a little something like:
“Well, I just don’t have expectations for the defense.”
“Yeah, but the defense isn’t healthy.”
“It’s the offense’s fault we lost because I expect them to score 30 points.” (This was a personal favorite of mine following the loss at Detroit in Week 13.)
“The offense should have never put the defense in that position.” (This after scoring 36 points and totaling 458 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14.)
Before I point out the flaws in continuing to cling to excuses for Mike Zimmer’s defense, allow me to share that expecting an NFL offense to score 30 points routinely is completely asinine in 2021. After 14 weeks, the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers — led by Tom Brady — are the only team in the league to average 30 points per game (31.9).
All I ask is that you keep that in mind before you attempt to quickly pivot the blame to the offense any and every time the ineptitude of Minnesota’s defense is brought up. And if you genuinely expect the Vikings to be the highest-scoring offense in the league with a first-year offensive coordinator? Well, that’s on you, I suppose.
But back to the issue of having little to no expectations for the defense. My question to that is: Why?
While Skoldiers are quick to point to Kirk Cousins‘ contract (reminder: front offices and general managers also sign on the bottom line), allow me to highlight where the core of Minnesota’s defense currently stacks up across the league in 2021 cap hits* at their respective positions:
- Eric Kendricks (2019 first-team All-Pro): second-highest-paid inside linebacker
- Harrison Smith (2017 first-team All-Pro, 2018 second-team All-Pro): sixth-highest-paid free safety
- Danielle Hunter (2018 second-team All-Pro): ninth-highest-paid defensive end
- Patrick Peterson (2011, 2013, and 2015 first-team All-Pro): 14th-highest-paid cornerback
- Anthony Barr (2015 second-team All-Pro, 4x Pro Bowler): 18th-highest-paid outside linebacker
- Dalvin Tomlinson: 18th-highest-paid defensive tackle
- Michael Pierce: 26th-highest-paid defensive tackle
*Contract data provided by Spotrac.com
Suffice it to say, Zimmer’s defense isn’t lacking in talent. And let’s not pretend that every NFL defense is supposed to have All-Pros at all three levels of their defense.
Next, let’s tackle arguably the favorite excuse in The Land of 10,000 Skols for Zimmer’s defense: health.
Granted, you won’t catch me pretending like Hunter’s absence isn’t felt. He’s, without a doubt, the most irreplaceable piece of this defense. His ability to get after opposing quarterbacks makes life considerably easier for the rest of the unit. But let’s not forget that even with a healthy Hunter alongside fellow All-Pros Kendricks and Smith, this defense gave up 27 or more points on three different occasions during their seven games together this season. The Sam Darnold-led Carolina Panthers didn’t have Christian McCaffrey when they put up 28 on Minnesota in Week 6.
Hunter’s absence aside, Kendricks and Smith have played in 12 and 11 (out of 13) games, respectively. Yet the defense still finds itself currently 25th in points allowed (25.6 per game) and 29th in yards allowed (381.5 per game). A defense comprised of two All-Pros for roughly 90% of the season and with a self-proclaimed “cornerback whisperer” defensive head coach calling the shots should be nowhere near the bottom of the league.
Over the past 29 games since Week 1 of 2020, the Minnesota Vikings rank 28th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed. And over that span of games, Kendricks and Smith have played in 23 and 27 games, respectively. When two of your three All-Pros are healthy and active for essentially all of the past two seasons, you don’t get to play the injury excuse card for this level of incompetence. Unlike the Vikings, the teams that accompany them at the bottom of these defensive rankings don’t have a single All-Pro on their defenses.
In this week’s Monday night matchup at Soldier Field, there is no excuse for this defense against a Chicago Bears offense that currently ranks 28th in points and 31st in yards, led by a rookie quarterback.
Simply put, anything less than a dominating defensive performance against the lowly 4-9 Bears on the national stage will be a direct indictment on Zimmer. They will enter the game with a healthy defense outside of Hunter, and five active players that rank in the top-18 in cap hits across the league at their positions. The time for excuses is over.