It’s time to panic, Kevin.
Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell has had a smooth ride until the Vikings allowed 400 or more passing yards in five straight games for the first time in franchise history. And while it’s just a recent trend, the defense has hemorrhaged yards all season, ranking dead last with 403.7 yards allowed per game.
The team’s success has overshadowed these shortcomings. But when Kirk Cousins throws for a season-high 425 yards and Justin Jefferson breaks the franchise single-game receiving yards record isn’t enough to get a win over the Detroit Lions, changes need to arrive on defense in a hurry.
However, there’s not much the Vikings can do. The free agency pool has dried up and the players are entrenched in the system that’s relied on turnovers and making stops in the red zone to be effective. That won’t fly against elite offenses in the playoffs.
The only option is taking the tablet and headset out of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s hands.
And while O’Connell is sticking with Donatell on a short week entering Saturday’s matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, columnist Brian Murphy addressed the need for a move to happen despite the media frenzy that will follow.
Kevin O’Connell Should Have ‘No Hesitation’ in Changing Defense Playcalling
Speaking on the Purple Insider podcast with Matthew Coller, Murphy took inventory of whether demoting Donatell from play-calling duties would be a panicked or prudent move.
And despite the potential media narratives that the Vikings would make a panicked move to oust Donatell of his play-calling duties, it would be better than playing it cool and allowing the defense to continue on its current path.
“These are types of decisions that NFL head coaches have to make. These are decisions that do need to be made. These are once-in-a-decade type seasons here,” Murphy said, adding that Sunday’s loss to the Lions may have knocked the Vikings out of contention for a first-round bye.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t win 14 or 15 games and still seize home field until you may have to face the Eagles. There should be no hesitation in O’Connell about the appearance of that type of move if it warrants it,” Murphy added. “The statistics and the results warrant something more than just a minor schematic [change].”
While O’Connell protected Donatell, saying he hasn’t taken any consideration in removing Donatell as play-caller, Murphy vented that the lack of urgency could be the bane of the Vikings’ season.
“This is no time for stroking egos. This is a 10-3 team that still has the potential to do something, especially after you see what [Kirk] Cousins and [Justin] Jefferson did yesterday. This is a team that has a chance to do some special things,” Murphy added.
Kevin O’Connell Hints at a More Aggressive Approach on Defense
The biggest decline over the past month on defense has been the Vikings’ ability to pressure the passer.
During Minnesota’s first nine games of the season, Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter combined for 15 total sacks and averaged 10.3 pressures per game. Smith was NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October and was praised as one of the best free-agent acquisitions in the league.
However, in the Vikings’ last four matchups, they’ve averaged just 6.5 pressures per game and tallied only two sacks. O’Connell called for a more aggressive approach on defense after the Lions game, which likely involves letting Hunter and Smith loose again.
“I think there’s a lot of things we can do, there’s a lot of things on the table,” he said in a December 12 press conference. “Whether it be personnel-based, whether it be schematics-based, changing things up, changing some looks, being a little bit more aggressive at times, just picking our spots defensively to put our players in situations to be aggressive and try to make some plays.”
Saturday will be a test of what types of changes the Vikings can begin to install against a Colts offense that has scored the second-fewest points this season. However, with no threatening offenses left on the schedule, Minnesota’s wake-up call may have already passed.