The Minnesota Vikings have reintroduced themselves as one of the best defenses in the NFL over the last two months following an underwhelming start.
In conjunction with being a top 10 scoring defense this season, the Minnesota Vikings also have a top five unit in yards per game allowed in both rushing and passing.
Big picture though, the formula for this year’s defensive success is vastly different from what made the Vikings’ unit so special in 2017. Last season, you were hard pressed at finding a weakness.
Sure, Harrison Smith is still arguably the best safety in the league. However, Xavier Rhodes has taken a steep decline this year from his bonafide shutdown corner form and Minnesota’s linebacker play has been very suspect.
Despite this, the Vikings have still presented considerable problems for opposing offenses with the defensive line as the driving force behind it.
Of course, the defensive line was pretty stout last year. But the biggest difference maker has no doubt been the addition of Sheldon Richardson at the three technique spot.
Richardson, alongside fellow defensive tackle Linval Joseph, make up one of the more formidable interior defensive line pairings in the NFL. With defensive end Danielle Hunter also in the mix, opposing offensive lines don’t have the luxury of putting extra focus on a specific Minnesota defensive lineman.
Through 12 weeks, the Vikings have already racked up 36 sacks which is currently tied for the third-most in the league. Minnesota had 37 sacks all of last season.
The constant pressure that the Vikings’ pass-rush brings to the table benefits the defense as a whole in multiple ways.
First, blitz packages aren’t necessarily required on a routine basis, which allows more bodies to play in pass coverage. And secondly, opposing quarterbacks are forced to take more hits and/or get rid of the ball quicker than preferred, which makes up for spotty play from the second and third levels of the defense.
Richardson’s presence has been invaluable for the defensive unit as he ideally becomes a priority re-signing mission for Minnesota in the upcoming offseason.
He’s got 3.5 sacks on the season, but that doesn’t tell the whole story as he brings non-stop pressure to the opposing quarterbacks, often times creating “assisted sacks” for his fellow defensive linemen.
Richardson’s addition has made the Vikings’ defensive line even better this year. He creates opportunities for his teammates and hides sub-par play from others.
What was thought to be a one-and-done scenario has now warranted a deeper look into keeping the talented interior defender around longer for the overall success of the defense and subsequently the success of Minnesota.