The Vikings’ 37-30 loss in Seattle on Monday night was their third consecutive game in which the final few drives decided the contest. While they were able to pull out victories over the Cowboys and Broncos in their previous two games, the Vikings defense simply was overpowered by the Seahawks offense.
The defense now ranks 11th in points allowed per game (20.2) and 16th in yards allowed per game (347.4), which would be the worst mark in the Mike Zimmer era.
And this defense is getting older. Two of their best linemen, end Everson Griffen and nose tackle Linval Joseph, are 31.
Joseph returned to action against the Seahawks only three weeks after knee surgery, which made it all the more incredible that the Vikings defense gave up 218 rushing yards, the second-highest mark since Zimmer became head coach in 2014.
And there is a real question about how this line will look next year. Griffen’s contract has a $13.9 million club option, and the team will be up against the salary cap.
One player who might get more extensive playing time is defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, who played in only one game last season but has appeared in all 12 this season and has four sacks, including one against Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on Monday, and seven QB hits in 197 snaps.
Odenigbo said the Vikings’ game plan Monday night just didn’t work out.
“Stop the run, that’s obviously where our game plan is going each week. They did a good job running the ball on us, and it kind of really opened it up,” he said. “We couldn’t get off the field or we were put in too many positions where we were in third-and-short instead of being third-and-long.”
Still, Odenigbo said the defense has no doubt that Monday’s performance will not become routine.
“Monday’s game was probably the best a team has run on us all year,” he said. “Obviously we’re going to watch the film and make some corrections and hopefully this only happens one time because we, as a defense, take pride in stopping the run.”
Seattle used a unique alignment for most of the game, bringing in an extra offensive lineman instead of a tight end.
“We’ve been running some under defense, where we have an extra lineman to help the run, but obviously Seattle just did a good job of game planning on us and that’s what this game is built off of, making adjustments and we’re going to learn from that this week,” Odenigbo said.
And when it comes to facing Detroit on Sunday, the second-year defensive lineman said they’ll be ready to move on from their first loss in nearly a month.
“Now that we’re playing at home, [our priority is] stopping the run,” he said. “I feel pretty confident that if we stop the run, we will be able to impose our will on any type of offense or defense.”
Odenigbo’s parents, Linda and Thomas, emigrated to America from Nigeria and he said it was a learning experience for them because they weren’t familiar with American football when he started playing in high school in Ohio.
“I’m first-generation Nigerian so first coming in, my parents didn’t know much about football,” he said. “But like any other sport, when your son or child has success in it, your parents want to have a part in it. They didn’t understand it initially, but they saw how special it was to me and how much opportunity there was in football and they became huge advocates. Now they know everything about football. It’s pretty cool to see that whole progression with them.”
He played in college at Northwestern with fellow Viking Eric Wilson. Wilson eventually transferred to Cincinnati, but he and Odenigbo built a great friendship.
He said he wasn’t surprised at all with the success Wilson is having this season with 34 tackles and two sacks.
“I always knew that Eric had it in him,” Odenigbo said. “… When he got to the Vikings, we were roommates together my rookie year, so he’s actually been a big part of why I have been able to play pretty well. We came up together, we know each other, so we talk about football all day. He and I are both lovers of the sport and we’re very passionate about the job.”
Odenigbo is slated to earn $660,000 next season, and that could make him a steal of a contract in another season when the Vikings will need affordable talent.
He said the biggest benefit to playing for this team is he gets to continue to learn from fellow linemen such as Griffen, Joseph, Danielle Hunter and Shamar Stephen.
“We have a great defensive line and just seeing those guys and how they practice and how they take care of their business, they kind of really show what it means to be a professional,” Odenigbo said. “I try to emulate them and what they do and it has helped me out this year.”
He said the mentality of working together extends to any success he has had this season.
“It feels good but at the end of the day, these four sacks wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the [rest of the] defensive line,” he said. “One thing about our defensive line and defensive unit is we have great chemistry. So even though when someone makes a great play, I know other people helped me out. It is not myself. I’m happy and benefiting from it right now, but I know it wouldn’t be possible without the other defensive lineman.”
Winfield to NFL?
Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was named the top defensive back in the Big Ten this week and there’s no doubt that if he chooses, he could turn pro.
His father, Antoine Winfield Sr., was a standout Vikings and Bills cornerback and 14-year pro who can offer insight into the decision. There isn’t a ton of upside for Winfield to return to the Gophers, because he is already 21 after missing the bulk of two seasons because of injuries.
Winfield is leading the team in tackles with 83 and interceptions with seven — that latter number ranked fourth in the country — and also forced two fumbles.
Pro Football Network rated Winfield as a top-five safety and a second-round draft pick who could potentially move into the first round if he chooses to enter the NFL draft.