Vikings must fix defensive issues with chance to clinch NFC North Saturday

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell reacts to a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Michigan USA, on Sunday, December 11, 2022  ((Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images))

Since being hired in early February, Kevin O’Connell has preached communication and collaboration between players and coaches with the Minnesota Vikings. When adversity hits, they would fix it together.

That approach is being put to the test this week, with O'Connell and company facing questions about their struggling defense, coming off their third loss of the season. The Vikings had a chance to clinch the NFC North Division with a win at Detroit last Sunday, then gave up 464 total yards. Jared Goff torched them for 330 yards, and three touchdowns. There were breakdowns in the secondary, no sacks on Goff and rarely pressure.

Through 13 games, the Vikings are dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. They give up 287 yards per game, and 7.6 yards per attempt. They're also 17th in the NFL with 30 sacks.

O’Connell was asked Monday if changes, either in coaching or personnel, are coming. He said no. But there are difficult conversations being had this week. That’s after giving up at least 400 yards for the fifth straight game, a franchise record.

"It all comes back to, I know we joked and laughed about the communication thing and the collaboration. That’s just not when you’re building a culture, that’s not when you’re speaking at press conferences, there’s times and moments where that actually has to be put into action," O’Connell said Tuesday from TCO Performance Center. "That’s where the relationships matter, we’ve got to be honest with each other, we’ve got to look at things with a standard at which we expect our players to execute, but also as coaches what are we doing process-wise to put all our players in good situations? Ultimately I’m responsible for everything we do as a football team."


For the second straight week, it’s a "T-shirt and hat" game for the Vikings. If they beat the Colts Saturday afternoon, they win their first NFC North title since 2017. They would also guarantee themselves at least one home playoff game.

"That would be big. We control everything we want to control, we’ve just got to go out there and do it. We know that, it’s no secret, we know what’s out there for us," running back Dalvin Cook said. "We just can’t keep talking about it, we’ve got to go get it done. That’s our mindset, everything is on the table for us, we know it. Let’s go grind and do what we do and go get it."

They’re likely chasing the No. 2 seed in the NFC, with the Philadelphia Eagles having a two-game lead and the tiebreaker on the Vikings. This week, they get the chance to clinch the division in front of their home fans, with four games to play.

The good news for the Vikings? They tend to have a short memory after losing. After a 24-7 Week 2 loss at Philadelphia, they won seven straight games by one possession. After a 40-3 loss to the Cowboys? They beat the Patriots four nights latter on Thanksgiving, then beat the Jets off a mini bye. Sunday? Win, and you're a division champion.

"It means the most to do it as fast as possible. I think you want to get it done as fast as possible, so that’ll be the challenge this week. Like every week, it’s just about going 1-0," quarterback Kirk Cousins said.


Cook nearly had his first career touchdown pass on Sunday, and it would’ve tied the Lions 14-14 going into the half, and getting the ball to start the third quarter. Cook was supposed to hit Johnny Mundt on a jump pass from the 3-yard line. Mundt broke open, but Cook fumbled before he could get the throw off and the Lions recovered.

"First of all, I’ve got to take care of the football, that’s my No. 1 thing I’ve got to do is just take care of the ball. We’ve just got to execute better," Cook said. "We didn’t execute the play to the level we were supposed to execute to."

Instead of his first career passing touchdown, Cook actually took a sack fumble. He hopes it’s not the last time he gets called for a trick play.

"That’s crazy. I thought I was going to get my first passing touchdown, it didn’t work out like that. KO knows, I’m a baller, I’ve just got to take care of the ball," Cook said.


The Vikings had their first practice Tuesday to get ready for the Colts. Cam Danztler (illness), Jordan Hicks (ankle) and Harrison Phillips (back) did not participate. Garrett Bradbury (back), James Lynch (shoulder) and Harrison Smith (neck) were limited.

Christian Darrisaw, returning from the concussion protocol, was not on the injury report and appears ready to return Saturday.

"It can be hard for a guy that wants to be out there with his teammates, and all we really ask is our players in those situations is to be honest with how they’re feeling," O’Connell said. "Not only us as coaches and players, but with the doctors. Those protocols are there for a reason, it’s all for player health and safety."