May 26, 2021; Eagan, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Patrick Peterson (7) defends wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) in exercises at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
This week was optimistic, but let’s not forget that we are a 1-2 team. I believe it was one of the ancient Greek philosophers (Aristotle, perhaps, or perhaps Socrates) who said that ‘you are what you are stated to be’. According to our record, we are a team below average. In a conference with the Cards, Bucs, Rams, Peckers and Seahawks, below average just isn’t good enough.
The only way to change our disappointing reality is to win games in bunches. Dropping our upcoming game against the Browns will put us back in the area we need to win, so it’s best we avoid an undignified 1-3 draw. What can our Viking do to continue their upward trajectory? It’s a good start to get some better performances from certain protagonists.
1) Patrick Peterson
To be clear, Patrick Peterson hasn’t been bad. On the contrary, he’s been pretty good. Pretty good isn’t enough, though.
The once-dominant corner was brought to Minnesota on an $8 million one-year deal. He specifically identified his primary motivation for coming to Minnesota as the chance to be coached by Zim (who has a reputation for reviving the careers of older corners). After all, it was Peterson who initiated off-season contact with the Vikings. Rick Spielman didn’t think he had a chance to sign the veterans corner until Peterson’s camp reached out.
Over three games, Peterson has had both good and bad moments. That’s more than can be said of Bashaud Breeland, whose moments were exclusively bad. At this point, the team should replace Breeland with Dantzler. The same luxury does not exist for Peterson. For better or worse, he will start for the rest of the season. He has to get better.
Having a true #1 corner is a game-changer for a defense, especially one that is still improving. Defense is often a numbers game. When a team runs to the right, the defense wants to make sure it has more than enough players to overwhelm the block. Defensive math maintains that 2 blockers equal 3 defenders. Zim can create a number advantage by having a dominant NT demanding double teams. He can also create a number advantage by having a corner that can be left on an island. Doing this allows him to roll cover aid to the other side, disabling a team’s #2 pass option.
Peterson has to move up to let this defense dominate again.
2) DJ Wonnum
I really like Wonnum, but he may not be the starter for long. Everson Griffen gets back into his rhythm. In all likelihood, it won’t be long before Griff starts getting the starting shots. Here are Wonnum’s snap rates over three weeks:
- Week 1: 68%
- Week 2: 84%
- Week 3: 64%
His size/length combination has always been intriguing. Unfortunately, its potential has not yet translated into meaningful production. Reference for professional football suggests he doesn’t have a layoff, TFL, or even pressure yet. He has only five tackles for the year. It’s about numbers. Danielle Hunter gets a lot of attention. Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson and Griff also enjoy the attention. Wonnum gets one-on-one chances and yet he doesn’t collect impact plays.
He is still a sophomore, someone who will benefit from more time with Andre Patterson. As it stands, however, Wonnum comes in at 99th overall in PFF‘s edge rusher rankings. They only have 100 of them. Cleveland’s offensive line will be a tough test for all of our defensive linemen, even with their injury concerns. A big week 4 would suggest Wonnum is starting to figure it out.
Our defense will be considerably harder to master if one or two pass rushers can complement what Hunter has offered us.
3) Chris Herndon
Like many writers and fans, I was optimistic when we made the switch to Herndon. There is no substitute for a player like Irv, but Herndon is one who gives cause for hope. After three weeks, that optimism seems unfounded.
Last week, Tyler Conklin was Minnesota’s #2 option in the receiving match, leading to a career day for our oft-overlooked TE. Herndon, on the other hand, brought out another clunker. He only has 36 snaps for the entire season. 23 of those snaps were on passing plays. He hasn’t arranged shelter yet.
Conklin has adopted it as the main pass option; Ben Ellefson has asserted himself as our blocking TE. The end result is a Herndon that has quickly dropped to 3rd place on the TE depth chart. The frustrating thing about this reality is that it is capable of so much more. The 6’4, 253 lb TE is still only 25. In 2018, Herndon . was PFFthe 12th best TE. The power is there. It’s up to Herndon to assert himself.
Cousins are known for just throwing at the open man. If the game design requires a pass to Herndon, Kirk will hit him (if he’s open of course). I don’t expect Herndon to catapult himself into our team’s best pass play options. No, I’m just looking for some contributions. Have a couple play a game. Move the chains in a big moment. Catch a red zone pass. Do something to help this team rise.
Every team in the NFL has at least some really great talent. The strong teams clearly have more elite talent than others. However, what they also have are players who are committed to their roles, players who emerge at critical moments. We all think of Jarius Wright in 2017. He was a WR3 with generally modest numbers; he was also a WR3 converting several critical third downs to help us win races.
Peterson is somewhat unique on this list insofar as he has to rise to true CB1 territory. Wonnum and Herndon, on the other hand, just need to become rock-solid contributors. If these three players can move up, our Vikings have a much better chance of conquering that 0-2 start.