On Thursday night against the New England Patriots, Kevin O’Connell saw his depleted cornerback room exposed. While the Minnesota Vikings emerged victorious, it is beyond clear that the secondary needs help and health immediately. How much more can that unit give up?
Coming over from the Denver Broncos, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has been tasked with putting the Vikings in position to limit opposing offenses. While the results column suggests Minnesota has performed well, the offense has primarily bailed out a defense that leaks like a sieve. Donatell has largely been uncreative on the defensive side of the ball, and a unit that was already questionable last season has done nothing to suggest they’ve turned it around.
For Thanksgiving, Donatell was forced to play with an empty deck. Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. were both inactive, while Cam Dantzler currently sits on injured reserve. Veterans Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan exist, but they were joined by recently acquired placeholder Duke Shelley. To suggest it was a less-than-ideal situation would be putting it lightly.
If there was a silver lining to the scenario, it’s that Minnesota found themselves facing mediocrity in the form of Mac Jones, Nelson Agholor, and DeVante Parker. That trio should not be expected to light anyone in this league up, and yet, the Vikings allowed them to have their way. Jones completed 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Parker put up 80 yards on just four catches, and Agholor reeled in six of eight targets for 65 yards and a touchdown. Even being a lackluster skill group, they still found plenty of success against Minnesota.
Long term, there should be reason to believe Evans can return soon and be a factor. Even as a late-round pick, the rookie has looked the part of a solid NFL cornerback. It was Booth Jr. who was supposed to be the impact player out of Clemson, but he has remained injured and ineffective, failing to take steps forward while struggling to stay on the field. Ideally, Dantzler will return when first able, but we’re still talking about a multi-week absence there. Donatell and the Vikings cornerbacks are locked in with what they currently have.
Against the New York Jets on Sunday, Minnesota will again face a group of skill position players that leave plenty to be desired. These are opportunities for the youth and unproven talents to step up and make a name for themselves. Peterson must take it upon himself as the veteran to lead the charge, but a consistently lacking level of play has to be avoided.
Similar to what the Vikings needed to do following the drubbing from Dallas, a week spent on the drawing board to overcome cornerback deficiencies is a must. There isn’t a magic bullet coming in to fix the group, and it will be on the guys in the room to change the current course.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.