Why the Vikings defense deserves a mulligan for their 2020 performance

(Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports) Mike Zimmer
(Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports) Mike Zimmer /

Last season, the Minnesota Vikings finished with one of the NFL’s worst defenses for the first time in a long time.

Ever since Mike Zimmer became the team’s head coach in 2014, the identity of the Minnesota Vikings has been their defense. Last season, however, not even Zimmer could prevent the Vikings defense from ranking near the bottom of the NFL.

After finishing fifth in points allowed and 14th in yards allowed in 2019, Minnesota gave up the fourth-most points and sixth-most yards last season.

While it would be great if there was just one thing to blame for the plunge the Vikings defense took in 2020, it’s just not that simple.

Minnesota Vikings severely impacted by injuries on defense in 2020

For those who follow Minnesota closely, everyone is aware of the number of notable players from their defense that dealt with serious injuries last season.

Anthony Barr didn’t even make it to Week 3 after suffering a torn pectoral, Danielle Hunter was done for the season with a neck injury before it even started, injuries kept Mike Hughes out for 12 of the Vikings’ 16 games, an injured calf prevented Eric Kendricks from helping Minnesota in their final four matchups of the season, and Michael Pierce didn’t even suit up for a game after opting out due to health concerns related to COVID-19.

Out of all the defensive units from around the NFL, the Vikings defense experienced the third-biggest impact from injuries last season, according to some recent metrics from Football Outsiders. Only the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers dealt with more impactful injuries to their defense in 2020 than Minnesota.

For as much talk that there has been about the Vikings fixing their defense this offseason, the players that will be returning from injury for the 2021 campaign should have a tremendous effect on the unit turning things around.

Minnesota had one of their worst defenses in franchise history last season, but the number of injuries they dealt with made it near impossible to achieve any sort of success.

With Barr, Pierce, Kendricks, and Hunter returning to the field to go with the arrivals of Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson, the Vikings defense certainly has the potential to get back to being one of the NFL’s top units in 2021.