5 things that must change for the Minnesota Vikings in 2019

(Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) Kirk Cousins
(Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) Kirk Cousins /
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(Photo By Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images)
(Photo By Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images) /

The defense needs to step up and get off the field

Moving to the other side of the ball, one of the anomalies for the Vikings defense is that they increased their sacks in 2018 to 50 from 37 in 2017, but the passer rating against them increased from 73.0 to 83.3.

As well, teams were able to run the ball more effectively against the Vikings last season, averaging 113.4 yards per game. That placed them in the middle of the NFL rankings for run defense. This followed the 2017 season when the Vikings had the second-best run defense limiting teams to only 83.6 yards per game.

Another fallout from the inability to stop the run is the time of possession. From 2017 to 2018 the Vikings defense was on the field for almost three more minutes. That may not sound like much, but for every minute the defense is on the field, the offense is on the sideline. In 2018 the defense was on the field for 32 minutes and 26 seconds.

The only change to the starting defense for 2019 is Shamar Stephen replacing Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle, returning to the team after playing a season with the Seahawks. A seventh-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2014, Stephen started all 16 games in 2016 before taking a backseat to Tom Johnson in 2017.

Looking at the approximate value assigned to players by Pro Football Reference, just about every starter on defense had their number drop with the exception of Harrison Smith, Trae Waynes, and Danielle Hunter.  Smith and Hunter were impact players last season and Waynes’ performance improved a lot over 2017.

That leaves room for a lot of players to pick it up. Top of the list is defensive end Everson Griffen and linebacker Anthony Barr. Making his fourth straight Pro Bowl appearance, Barr signed a five-year contract after dipping his toes in the free-agent market. A first-round draft pick in 2014, Barr finished last season with 55 total tackles, the fewest in his career, giving him space to improve in 2019.

It was personal issues that impacted Griffen’s play last season. One of the leaders of the defense, Griffen missed five games as he needed to take care of himself. His sack total of 5.5 was the lowest since becoming a full-time starter in 2014. I am looking for Griffen to play better in 2019, and that will have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the front seven.