PFF Is Wrong About the Vikings’ Defensive Front - Zone Coverage (2024)

There are ample reasons to be skeptical about the Minnesota Vikings’ outlook in 2024, but I can assure you that Brian Flores’ defensive front isn’t one of them. Earlier this week, though, Pro Football Focus’s Sam Monson ranked all 32 defensive lines heading into the season, and Minnesota checked in at No. 30.

Here is Monson’s explanation:

The Vikings’ offseason free-agency swap of Danielle Hunter for Jonathan Greenard was likely a downgrade, even if they got younger and cheaper in the process. Andrew Van Ginkel earned a 91.1 PFF overall grade last season, but that was a massive outlier in a career that has typically seen him post grades in the 60s and 70s.

Rookie Dallas Turner will have high expectations, but the interior of this line is a weakness.

Will the Vikings replicate the 2007 New York Giants with their defensive line this season? Of course not. But pegging this unit to be a bottom-feeder in 2024 is a downright mistake. Here’s why.

While Monson was correct in his assessment that Minnesota’s best rusher will experience a slight downtick from Hunter to Greenard, the Vikings drastically improved their overall depth at edge rusher this offseason. That’s not to say that Greenard isn’t capable of being a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher, just as Hunter was over the past several seasons.

Greenard is coming off a career-high 12.5 sacks last season with the Houston Texans while playing in DeMeco Ryans‘ scheme. Greenard’s production also came while playing in a defensive scheme that ranked near the bottom of the league in blitz rate. According to Pro Football Reference, Ryans’ defense with the Texans ranked 28th with a 21% blitz rate last season. That means Greenard hardly had the luxury of forcing isolated matchups with Houston sending additional rushers. Conversely, the Vikings had the NFL’s highest blitz rate last season under Flores at 51.5%.

Is it a coincidence that Hunter achieved a career-high 16.5 sacks while playing in the league’s most blitz-happy defense? I think not. If Greenard can reach that level of production while playing in a largely “straight-up” scheme, it’s fair to expect Greenard to surpass his sack total from last season while playing for Flores.

Make no mistake about it, going from D.J. Wonnum to Andrew Van Ginkel is a noticeable upgrade at the opposite edge. Like his 2021 campaign when the Vikings prematurely thrust him into a starting role, Wonnum was largely inefficient as a full-time pass rusher last season. Out of 28 edge rushers who recorded 465-plus pass-rush snaps last season, Wonnum’s 38 pressures ranked dead last. Must I remind you that came while playing in Flores’ blitz-centric scheme?

On the other hand, Van Ginkel flourished as one of the league’s most efficient pass rushers last year. He totaled 53 pressures and recorded a 16.5% pressure rate. For context, 2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Myles Garrett recorded a 16.1% pressure rate last season. The Miami Dolphins moved Van Ginkel into a full-time role last year after edge rusher Jaelan Phillips tore his ACL in Week 12 against the New York Jets. Van Ginkel also started in Phillips’ place during the first few weeks of last season.

Across 11 starts, Van Ginkel recorded:

  • 46 pressures
  • 17.4% pressure rate (!!!)
  • six sacks
  • one pick-six interception

Andrew Van Ginkel pick-six. Playing in Jaelan Phillips’ spot for the Dolphins.

— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) December 3, 2023

Van Ginkel has reunited with Flores after spending three seasons together in Miami, and he should be an immediate impact player opposite Greenard this season.

While there’s justifiable excitement over the Vikings trading up for Dallas Turner in the first round of the draft, they will likely use him as a rotational and situational edge rusher as a rookie. That makes Harrison Phillips so critical for Minnesota’s defensive front. Last season, Phillips recorded the second-most run play “stops” by an interior defensive lineman — which PFF defines as tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense —with 37. Only 2023 Pro Bowler Derrick Brown recorded more run play stops than Phillips with 50.

If Phillips can mirror his 2023 by remaining an elite run stuffer on early downs, that will allow Flores to get into his NASCAR front by having Greenard, Van Ginkel, and Turner on the field together in obvious passing situations on third-and-longs. That’s when Flores can really get into his bag with exotic pressures and/or simulated pressure packages.

Does all that sound like the third-worst defensive line in all of football this season? Not even close. Swing and another miss for PFF.

Rob Searles

PFF Is Wrong About the Vikings’ Defensive Front - Zone Coverage (1)

Searles is a born and raised Minnesotan who currently resides in Denver. He was the Pass Game Coordinator for Simley and Mounds View HS and previously wrote for the Daily Thunder, FantasyPros, and Bleacher Report.

All Articles

PFF Is Wrong About the Vikings’ Defensive Front - Zone Coverage (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Wyatt Volkman LLD

Last Updated:

Views: 6251

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (66 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Wyatt Volkman LLD

Birthday: 1992-02-16

Address: Suite 851 78549 Lubowitz Well, Wardside, TX 98080-8615

Phone: +67618977178100

Job: Manufacturing Director

Hobby: Running, Mountaineering, Inline skating, Writing, Baton twirling, Computer programming, Stone skipping

Introduction: My name is Wyatt Volkman LLD, I am a handsome, rich, comfortable, lively, zealous, graceful, gifted person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.