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Ed Donatell bemoans Vikings’ last-place status in NFL defense, but he’s confident ‘we’ll work through this’

The Vikings have have allowed 400 or more yards in 5 straight games, a first in team history.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell looks on from the sidelines Nov. 13, 2022, against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. The Vikings rank last in the NFL in total defense.
Gregory Fisher / USA Today Sports
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EAGAN, Minn. -- In 10 previous seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator, Ed Donatell never has had a defense statistically as bad as the 2022 Minnesota Vikings. And you better believe he doesn’t like it.

In Donatell’s first year with the Vikings, they are ranked 32nd and last in the league in total defense with four games left in the regular season. In previous coordinator stints with Green Bay, Atlanta and Denver, the worst ranking Donatell had for a season was No. 22.

“I don’t feel good about that,’’ Donatell, 65, said Wednesday about Minnesota being in position to finish last in the NFL in total defense for just the third time in the 62-year history of the franchise.

Donatell, in his 32nd overall season as an NFL assistant, is quick to point out that the Vikings are 10-3 entering Saturday’s game against Indianapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium. But he knows the team’s defense hasn’t been up to his or to Vikings’ standards.

vikings-mugs-ed-donatell.jpeg
Ed Donatell

“For this organization, for these fans, they’re kind of used to having a defense, over the years, at times, that (is), ‘Boom, shut it down,’ ’’ Donatell said. “So that’s what we’re working for.’’

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Donatell remains confident the Vikings will turn things around.

“We’ll work through this,’’ he said.

Out in the open

The Vikings’ defensive struggles have been masked at times by their ability to pull out wins this season in a number of unexpected ways. They’re an incredible 9-0 in one-score games.

But defensive breakdowns were there for all to see in Sunday’s 34-23 loss at Detroit. The Vikings gave up 464 yards of total offense, making it the first time in team history they have allowed 400 or more in five straight games. Lions quarterback Jared Goff faced little pressure throughout the game and threw three touchdown passes, one of 41 yards to a wide-open Jameson Williams and another of 48 yards to an open D.J. Chark.

“We had two balls go over our head deep,’’ Donatell said. “That can’t happen. That’s way against the vision and the standard of what we’re looking for, so what do you do? You … look at what you can do to rectify that.”

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions running back Justin Jackson dives in for a touchdown in front of Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler Sr. on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Detroit.
David Reginek / USA Today Sports

Donatell said the Vikings need to generate more of a pass rush to help the defensive backs since the team is giving up “too many” passing yards. He has continued confidence in the 3-4 defense Minnesota switched to this season from a 4-3, adding that “we’re still learning some of our players and their strengths and working through injuries.” He said there could be some tweaks to the scheme but that they won’t be “drastic.”

“It’s really more execution… Just get tighter (in coverage) and so forth,’’ he said. “We have a good mixture of schemes. … I can’t guarantee it in five days, six days, seven days, but eventually we’ll be there. Because we know what we’re doing.”

Safety Camryn Bynum said “execution” has been the primary message Donatall has passed on this week to the defense.

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“At the end of the day, football is still football and we’re not going to go against our whole philosophy,’’ Bynum said. “But obviously we’re going to throw in wrinkles to be able to do things a lot better.”

The Smiths

It should help the Vikings to likely get back six-time Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith after he sat out against the Lions with a neck injury. He was listed as a full participant in practice Wednesday after being limited Tuesday.

“It’s tough to cover for a guy that has 11 years of experience, multiple (Pro Bowl) teams, just for his ability to line guys up,’’ said cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Donatell said edge rusher Za’Darius Smith is “now healthy” after being bogged down by an ailing knee. Smith, who leads the Vikings with 9½ sacks, hasn’t missed any games but hasn’t had a sack in any of the past four games.

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“We always preach about rushing (and) coverages marrying together and teams are really doing a good job of just trying to take our Edge Department out of the game, so we just have to continue to find ways to get to the passer much more efficiently,’’ Peterson said.

The Vikings don’t blitz a lot in Donatell’s defense. It doesn’t sound as if Donatell will make any big changes there.

“We like our four-man rush, and they have been close so many times (to the quarterback),’’ he said. “We get a lot of hurries from this group, but it’s just that extra little thing if you can hold the coverage just a little bit longer, a lot of those rushes will work with four. But then we’ve added some five (lately), and we’ll continue to have a combination of both.”

Through it all, Donatell expressed little doubt that the Vikings will work through their issues.

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“There’s no question that we’ll come out of this,’’ he said.

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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