Thanks to the Edge Department, Vikings defense off to solid start after two subpar seasons

John Autey/Pioneer Press/TNS
·4 min read

The Vikings have had the Purple People Eaters and the Rushmen. Now, they have the Edge Department.

Sack specialist Danielle Hunter revealed after Sunday’s resounding 23-7 victory over Green Bay in the opener at U.S. Bank Stadium the nickname that has been bestowed upon Minnesota’s edge rushers.

“The Edge Department did their job,” he said after the game.

Yes, it did. The Vikings sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers four times and harassed him throughout the game. Three of the sacks were by edge rushers Hunter, Za’Darius Smith and D.J. Wonnum, and the fourth by inside linebacker Jordan Hicks, who had a team-high 14 tackles.

But it seems as if membership in the Edge Department might also include those on Minnesota’s defense who aren’t edge rushers. Nose tackle Harrison Phillips let that be known Monday.

“I think if you earn the right, it is,” Phillips said. “There’s a couple of packages where we might be outside or maybe a corner will come down and set the edge and stuff, but it’s just good to know in our base calls and in our stuff, we have an Edge Department.”

It seems as if defensive backs should be candidates for membership, too, even when they’re not used on the edge. After all, cornerback Patrick Peterson spoke after Sunday’s game about some of the Vikings’ sacks.

“We had a bunch of coverage sacks,” he said. “You know, just being really dialed in, in the back end.”

Regardless of who is in the Edge Department, one thing is for sure: The defense was back on Sunday after two lackluster seasons in which the Vikings finished with losing records.

In 2020, the Vikings were ranked No. 29 in the NFL in scoring defense and No. 27 in total defense. In 2021, they were No. 24 and No. 30 in those two categories, respectively. Injuries were a factor in the collapse of the defense. And it cost Mike Zimmer his job as head coach not that long after his defense was ranked No. 1 in the league in 2017 in both scoring and total defense.

Kevin O’Connell, the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator, took over for Zimmer and hired Ed Donatell as his defensive coordinator. Donatell switched the scheme from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4, and the results sure were good in the opener.

After one game, the Vikings are tied for No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense and No. 14 in total defense. They held the Packers to nearly 20 points below their 2021 scoring average of 26.5 per game. The Vikings gave up 25.1 points per game last season.

“I think you see kind of how it all comes together when it’s working together like that,” O’Connell said Monday of the defense. “I thought Ed and that group, coaching-wise, and then those players out on the field got off to a great start.”

O’Connell made note of how newcomers have helped the defense. Among the starters, four were signed during the offseason as free agents: Smith, Phillips, Hicks and defensive end Jonathan Bullard. Smith and nickel back Chandon Sullivan arrived after playing the past three seasons with Green Bay.

“I think it’s a confirmation from (general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah) and his staff and the collaboration we have in the building,” O’Connell said. “It’s one thing to acquire talented players, but I think the secret in all of that is making sure we’re in lock step on the role.”

One thing several Vikings players haven’t wanted to do is compare this season’s defense to the units of the past two years. Safety Harrison Smith, in his 12th Vikings season, said they “don’t really look back.” Hunter, in his eighth Minnesota season, echoed that.

“We’re in the present,” said Hunter, who sat out all of 2020 with a neck injury and missed the final 10 games last season with a torn pectoral muscle. “We don’t look at the past. … So, we’re happy about where we are right now. We’re going to continue to build with what we have and continue to thrive on what we have right now.”

For now, Phillips said the Vikings “have an Edge Department … that we pride ourselves on.” He then was asked if the team might start putting out T-shirts with “Edge Department” on them.

“I think so, for sure,” Phillips said.

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