3 ways Minnesota Vikings can ensure sustained success
A number of pundits have considered the Minnesota Vikings’ 2022 season success as fluky, fraudulent, and otherwise unsustainable. Though they won the NFC North and finished their regular season at 13-4, the Vikings’ previous season concluded by scoring a negative point differential and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs. There is such little belief in the Vikings’ chance to win the NFC North, that the Detroit Lions are the expected winners of the division for the first time since 1993. So how can Minnesota prove they run the north?
Building a New Defense
The defense needing to be scrapped and rebuilt is a point that won’t go away and it shouldn’t. The Vikings’ defense last year was appalling under the watch of former DC Ed Donatell. Most of the deficiencies occurred due to his promised variant of the Vic Fangio 3-4 scheme that proved to be doomed from the start. Now under the guidance of former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, the entire identity of that side of the ball has been replaced. Aggressive, decisive, and fast are the new norm for the defense and they have already been stymieing the offense during practice.
Other issues arose from the retention of aging players based mostly on name value. That is no longer the case. Following the departures of several notable veterans like Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson, the defense is being filled with new names. Newcomers such as Byron Murphy Jr. and Marcus Davenport are helping to set the standard among the rookie and sophomore defensemen.
Expectations are low on the previously bottom-five unit, but if Flores’ guidance, combined with youth and speed, can reach a middling tier in the league, Minnesota would be a tough team to beat.
New locker room leaders need to step up
While replacing older veterans with younger players is great on paper, you lose the voice they had in the locker room. Of course, the team still has their “quiet leaders” as both Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter were brought back for 2023, but some of the more vocal leaders last season are bringing their leadership to new teams. As vocal leaders on offense and defense respectively, Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks were invaluable as on-the-field mentors passing on the knowledge they had gained to give a springboard of success to the younger players and allow them to contribute faster than they could have without Kendricks or Thielen. As well as being the on-field captains, these veterans will be dearly missed as key locker-room leaders. In Kevin O’Connell’s first year as a head coach, he inherited a team with a toxic culture from the former regime. In order to reverse course, O’Connell relied heavily on these vocal veterans to purge the old “culture of fear” with a culture based on collaboration and a desire to win. With the help of Kendricks, Thielen, and others, they were able to turn around a perennial .500 team and turn them into the unlikely 13-4 Minnesota Vikings.
Now absent many of those reliable captains, new leaders need to make their voices heard and be the guiding hand for the next generation. The process began last year after OT Brian O’Neill went down late in the season with an injury and to the shock of many outside of the Vikings’ building, Josh Metellus emerged donning a captain’s patch. Now deep into training camp, it’s clear why Metellus was the man selected. Making a point to always welcome the fans and maintain team morale, he is quickly making his veteran presence known. Justin Jefferson and KJ Osborn have also been excellent in guiding the receiver group, especially in their mentoring of the rookie Jordan Addison following his off the field citation prior to training camp.
Justin Jefferson on mentoring Jordan Addison:
"[Thielen] was that person for me that took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and taught me how to be a professional. That’s that role that I’m playing with him. Anything that he needs, I’m there for him."
— vikesinsider (@vikesinsider) July 26, 2023
Become back-to-back division champions
While it is important to win during the regular season, it’s the only thing in the postseason. After a heavily criticized season, the Vikings hoped to silence doubters in their wild card appearance against the New York Giants only to lose after a crucial turnover on downs. Three seasons without a playoff victory and five without a conference championship appearance. Before the Vikings’ success can be considered sustained, they need to win in January and the best path to do so remains winning the NFC North.
Not since 2008-09 has an NFC North team not named the Green Bay Packers won the title two years in a row, but for Minnesota to be deemed legit contenders, that is what it will take.
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