Following the NFL schedule release on Thursday evening, Minnesota Vikings fans can’t help fixating on Kevin O’Connell ringing in his era at home against the dreaded Green Bay Packers — and for good reason. By drawing the winners of the NFC North in eight out of the past 11 seasons, including the past three, this new Vikings regime will have a golden opportunity to gain some serious momentum out the gates if they successfully pass their trial by fire against back-to-back NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers in Minneapolis.
And if Kirk Cousins out-duels Rodgers and leads Minnesota to a victory over their hated rival inside the friendly confines of US Bank Stadium for the second consecutive year, the Vikings will garner a ton of attention from the national media leading up to their Week 2 Monday night showdown at Lincoln Financial Field against the Philadelphia Eagles. With Skoldiers hoping to exact some semblance of revenge on Fly Eagles Fly for the 2017 NFC Championship game, the rest of the football world will be tuning in to see if O’Connell’s Vikings are the real deal.
But while the additions to Minnesota’s secondary — which includes first-round pick safety Lewis Cine and second-round pick Andrew Booth — should help defend Rodgers and his new cast of receivers in the season opener, it’s the guy the Vikings passed on with the 12th-overall pick in last month’s draft who will leave Minnesota with a sour taste in their mouth of what could have been following the primetime affair.
Once the Vikings moved back in the first round following their trade with the Detroit Lions, Eagles’ general manager Howie Roseman locked in on the former Georgia Bulldogs unicorn of a defensive tackle in Jordan Davis by trading up from 15th to 13th overall following a trade with the Houston Texans. Davis would have made a lot of sense for the Vikings had they stood pat at their original spot in the draft, especially when you consider that this defense is coming off a year that saw them ranked 26th at defending the run. And against teams like the Eagles — who led the NFL in rushing last season — Davis is exactly the kind of player that teams covet in these particular matchups.
Will the addition of Cine and Booth help against Philadelphia’s newfound receiver tandem of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith? Let’s hope so. But make no mistake about it, the Eagles are still in the business of hiding quarterback Jalen Hurts behind their league-leading rushing attack. That’s not to say that Hurts is incapable of beating opponents through the air. It’s more that head coach Nick Sirianni unapologetically pounds opposing defenses into oblivion on the ground behind one of the best offensive lines in the league — as evidenced by the Eagles running the ball 56 more times than they threw it last year.
Circling back on Minnesota’s 26th-ranked run defense: Last season, the Vikings allowed 149-plus rushing yards on six different occasions. All of which resulted in losses. Some of the best rushing attacks in the league dominated Minnesota’s front, including the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Ravens. Those three teams combined for 639 yards on the ground against the Vikings for an average of 213 rushing yards per game. For context, the Eagles averaged 159.7 ground yards per game last season and eclipsed 200 rushing yards five times.
Not only will the Vikings have to worry about holding up against Davis, Fletcher Cox, and Javon Hargrave for their own running game with Dalvin Cook, but Minnesota’s decision to pass on the former Bulldog run-stuffer will serve as a double whammy if Philadelphia can control the clock and keep Minnesota’s offense on the sidelines by effectively running the ball down Minnesota’s throat.
Is Harrison Phillips — the free-agent defensive tackle signee who Pro Football Focus graded as the sixth-best run defender at his position last year — the remedy for Minnesota’s woes against the run? Kwesi Adofo-Mensah must feel pretty strongly about his chances after the first-year general manager prioritized fixing Minnesota’s 28th-ranked pass defense from last season by spending his first two draft picks on the secondary.
To make matters extra complicated for Skoldiers, last week I sat down with NBC Sports Edge’s NFL Draft guru Thor Nystrom on an episode of The Cy Amundson Show. Much to the chagrin of Amundson, Nystrom told us that Booth likely would have been available for the Vikings at 46th overall had they decided to stick with their original draft picks. In this hypothetical scenario, selecting Davis at 12 and Booth at 46 would have theoretically addressed Minnesota’s glaring holes in both facets of its defense. And for a matchup like Philadelphia, Davis would have provided much-needed reinforcements up front.
Instead, Skoldiers will be forced to sit back and enjoy the show as the Monday Night Football commentators discuss Minnesota’s decision to pass on Davis at least half a dozen times throughout the broadcast after Davis introduces himself to the football world at the expense of Minnesota’s below-average offensive line.
And being that the Vikings are still the Vikings, we already know how this story goes when Davis’ menacing presence completely shuts down Minnesota’s run game en route to a 27-23 Eagles victory.
Oh, what could have been.