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Week 8 Q&A: Are the Vikings panicking on defense?

Eric Thompson of the Daily Norseman returns for part two of our Vikings chat, this time focusing on the defense.

Tennessee Titans v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Under Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings have built their identity around defense. For the most part, it has worked quite well. Prior to 2020, Zimmer’s Vikings teams have only ranked outside the top 10 in scoring defense once: they ranked 11th in 2014, Zimmer’s first season in Minnesota.

But that “prior to 2020” phrase is key, because this season the Vikings are near the very bottom of the league in points allowed, ranking 30th in scoring defense. The wheels appear to have come off, and to get a feel for how Vikings fans are feeling about it, we turn again to Eric Thompson of the Daily Norseman. Eric shared his thoughts about the offense yesterday.

Acme Packing Company: Mike Zimmer has always been known for his defense, but just before their bye, the Vikings gave up 40 points to the Falcons. Where’s the defensive panic index right now?

Eric Thompson: I...I think the panic index is broken. It’s on tilt. It went to 11 and the needle got stuck. Even if the defensive side of the roster was intact, there were going to be some bumps in the road with so many new pieces. Now there are key players missing and some of those new pieces that were already struggling are probably missing the game on Sunday. Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter are out for the year. Michael Pierce opted out and the Linval Joseph-sized hole in the middle of the defensive line remains. The Vikings allowed 522 yards to the Packers in Week 1, and three of the cornerbacks that played over 50 snaps that game might miss this game! The only way the patchwork Vikings secondary is stopping Davante Adams is if he slips on his own drool after salivating at the matchups he has.

APC: Last time around, we asked about Yannick Ngakoue, but he’s already been traded in the intervening weeks since the last Packers/Vikings game. What went wrong there?

ET: Long story short — the Vikings gambled and lost, but they didn’t chase their money either. They knew the secondary was going to be a weak point, especially early on. However, they still thought they had a pretty competitive team, so they made the trade for Ngakoue before the season. I loved the trade when it happened; pairing Ngakoue with Hunter would almost certainly ease the pressure on all the young corners. But of course, this is the Vikings, and the two pass rushers ended up playing exactly zero snaps together. The Vikings dropped what is currently looking like about 50 draft slots on a Day 2 draft pick for six weeks of Ngakoue. That’s bad. However, I do commend them for not making it worse and getting what they could back. With the team 1-5 and going nowhere, trading Ngakoue was better than overpaying him or letting him walk for nothing after the season.

APC: Who’s playing well for the Vikings on defense right now?

ET: Harrison Smith is still very good at football. He might not be the best safety in the league anymore, but he’s still doing as much as he can to make the defense less embarrassing. Eric Kendricks isn’t making nearly as many splash plays as his All-Pro 2019 season, but he’s still very solid in the middle. Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo leads the team in pressures and has done pretty well in his expanded role this year. Other than that? I got nothing. This defense is bad and beat up. Not a great combination.

APC: What’s your prediction for Sunday?

ET: Despite decades of evidence to the contrary, I try to remain mostly positive about the team I write about and cheer for. I honestly can’t figure out many feasible ways that the Vikings could pull off the upset in Lambeau. I guess Aaron Rodgers could turn in another performance similar to the one in Tampa Bay, but I don’t think the Vikings have the personnel to force him into any mistakes. Perhaps Minnesota could flip the Week 1 time of possession and keep their biggest mismatches off the field? But then again, Cook might not be 100% and it’s hard to put much faith in Cousins to sustain drives while the game is still in the balance. These two teams have opposite records, which is pretty fitting because they appear to be headed in opposite directions. I’ll say 34-17 Packers.