Donatell Has The Gameplan, Weapons To Upgrade Minnesota Vikings Defense
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The Minnesota Vikings will go into the 2022 season with question marks throughout their lineup. However, there is a surprisingly optimistic picture to what is happening on the defensive side of the ball.

That may seem curious since the Vikings are coming off two disappointing seasons from that part of the team, and that was with a certified defensive expert in Mike Zimmer running the team.

New head coach Kevin O’Connell is almost completely unproven, and his only bona fides are on the offensive sides of the board. The defense is now in the hands of veteran coach Ed Donatell, a proven commodity who has two Super Bowl victories to his credit, earned as a defensive backs coach with the Broncos when they won back-to-back championships in 1997 season (over Green Bay) and ’98 (over Atlanta).

Donatell has advanced up the ranks throughout his career, and he was a defensive coordinator for the Broncos under Vic Fangio during the past three seasons. While Denver did not have a team of All Pros on defense, the Broncos allowed 18.9 points per game last season, ranking third in the league.

Donatell is clearly an old-school leader, much like Zimmer was during his tenure with the Vikings. However, here is the difference: Zimmer was married to the 4-3 scheme, while Donatell is much more versatile. He can coach a 4-3 defense, but he can also use his personnel in a 3-4 scheme. That makes it much harder for an opponent to figure out what a defense is going to do in a given series – let alone preparing for a full game.

A sharp defensive coordinator can do a lot to make life difficult for opposing teams for that reason. It is much harder to figure out how multiple defensive fronts will be deployed to ruin the rhythm of an opposing offense. But no matter how smart the defensive coordinator is, it comes down to personnel.

The combination of Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith could turn out to be one of the best and most effective pass-rush duos in the NFL. When the Vikings line up in a 3-4 set, Hunter and Smith will be the starting outside linebackers, and their job will be to rush the passer.

Hunter has had two injury-plagued seasons, but he appears to be on track for a healthy 2022 season. If the Vikings are going to be successful, Hunter has to stay on the field. He had 14.5 sacks in both 2018 and 2019 before missing the 2020 season with a neck injury (cervical spine disc). Hunter played seven games last season before going down with a tear of his pectoral muscle, and he had 6.0 sacks before his season ended.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah restructured Hunter’s roster bonus this year in a way that allowed the Vikings to sign Smith away from the Green Bay Packers. Smith had 13.5 sacks in 2019 and he followed that up with 12.5 sacks in 2020. He had a back injury that kept him out of action for all but one game in 2021, but the Vikings are banking on him having a return to full health in the upcoming season.

A healthy Hunter can wreck opposing offenses by himself, or at least come close to it. If the Vikings have a powerful 1-2 punch with Hunter and Smith, it can turn the Vikings into a very dangerous team.

If those two are in the lineup and causing at least some degree of havoc, the issues in the secondary are not going to be as problematic as they have been the past two years. Actually, if rookies Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth Jr. can upgrade free safety and cornerback, respectively, that weakness could turn into a strength.

The Vikings certainly need a little bit of luck on their side when it comes to the health of their defensive players. If they are not done in by injuries in 2022, it appears that Donatell will have a powerful group of players who can impose their will.

An improved Minnesota defense is something that Vikings fans are longing to see and could pay huge dividends.

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