The Vikings defensive line relied on a mix of old and new faces in 2022.
We've previously recapped defensive ends and defensive tackles together. But for the first time since 1985, the Vikings moved to a 3-4 base defense that transitioned edge players to outside linebackers, the position group that will be highlighted in tomorrow's position review.
Minnesota added Harrison Phillips during free agency, and he ended up being the only member of the team's defensive line to start all 17 regular-season games and the Wild Card matchup.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus gave him an overall grade of 72.1, with a 73.6 grade against the run.
Dalvin Tomlinson also made a significant impact for Minnesota's defense, and his absence was felt Weeks 9-12 as he worked through a calf injury. He received an overall PFF grade of 77. Tomlinson racked up a career-high 10 tackles (eight solo) at Detroit in Week 13.
View the best photos of the Vikings defensive line during the 2022 season.
The Vikings started Jonathan Bullard in seven of the 12 games he played for Minnesota during his first season in purple, and they also rotated in 2020 fourth-round selection James Lynch for certain game situations.
Minnesota during the preseason acquired Ross Blacklock from the Texans via trade, and in October the team signed Khyiris Tonga from the Falcons practice squad. Blacklock played in 11 games and notched his third career sack when he took down Patriots QB Mac Jones on Thanksgiving. Tonga's contributions may not have been splashy, but he quietly proved to be one of the Vikings best additions on the line; he recorded four pass breakups after having none as a rookie in Chicago last season.
Last but not least, the Vikings drafted former Golden Gopher Esezi Otomewo in the fifth round and utilized him in five games on defense and special teams.
Although much was made about Minnesota shifting to the 3-4 base, the Vikings played in their nickel defense on more than 80 percent of their defensive snaps in the first and only season under Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell.
Notable Number: 5
Bullard's five tackles for loss on the season were a career-high for the seven-year vet. He racked up three in a single game during the Vikings exhilarating comeback win at Buffalo Week 10.
Back in Buffalo
The Vikings overtime win in Buffalo was memorable for everyone involved, but it perhaps was even more so for Phillips, who was playing his former team for the first time.
Phillips said it was emotional to return to Highmark Stadium, where he spent the first four seasons of his NFL career, and reconnect with former teammates and friends such as QB Josh Allen and TE Dawson Knox.
With under a minute remaining in regulation, Phillips was part of the play in which Allen fumbled the snap and Eric Kendricks recovered it in the end zone for a Vikings touchdown. He shifted suddenly before the snap and fired across the line immediately.
Greg Joseph made a 33-yard field goal in overtime to take the lead, and Allen was intercepted by Vikings CB Patrick Peterson on the game's final play.
2 tackles (2 solo), 1.0 sack, 2 tackles for loss; appeared in 11 games with no starts; played 139 of Minnesota's 1,161 defensive snaps (12 percent)
23 tackles (17 solo) and 5 tackles for loss; started 7 of 12 games; played 319 defensive snaps (27.5 percent)
20 tackles (11 solo) and a tackle for loss; started 2 of 15 games; played 276 defensive snaps (23.8 percent)
5 tackles (3 solo) and a tackle for loss; played in 5 games; played 89 defensive snaps (7.7 percent)
59 tackles (28 solo), 1.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 1 pass defensed and 1 fumble recovery; started all 17 games; played 694 defensive snaps (59.8 percent)
42 tackles (20 solo), 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery; started all 13 games he played; played 551 defensive snaps (47.5 percent)
28 tackles (12 solo), 0.5 sacks, 4 passes defensed and 1 tackle for loss; started 2 of 11 games; played 276 defensive snaps (23.8 percent)
1. A cheeky good game, mate
The Vikings likely were knackered after their long trip and wild game against the Saints in London, but their hard work paid off with another one-score win.
A highlight of the overseas contest occurred shortly before halftime, when Tomlinson forced a fumble by QB Andy Dalton that was recovered by Phillips at the Saints 20.
While Minnesota was unable to capitalize with a touchdown, Joseph kicked a 36-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 13-7 lead.
Tomlinson received a team-high PFF grade of 89.9 in London, while and had one of his best grades with a 74.1.
2. Started strong
Minnesota's d-line helped the team get off to a terrific start to the season.
The Vikings held Green Bay RBs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon to under 50 yards rushing apiece and pressured Aaron Rodgers all day. The Packers QB finished his outing just 22-of-34 passing for 195 yards and an interception. His 67.6 passer rating was his lowest all-time against the Vikings (excluding 2017 when he was injured on his eighth play of the game).
Phillips recorded three tackles on the day, and Tomlinson added a tackle and a fumble recovery that led to a 56-yard field goal.
The Vikings won 23-7 in Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's debut.
1. Done in by Dallas
It's fair to say the Vikings across the board struggled in Week 11 against the Cowboys.
Dallas handed Minnesota an embarrassing defeat at home, with all phases seemingly making multiple mistakes.
The Vikings allowed RB Tony Pollard to rack up 189 yards from scrimmage, and QB Dak Prescott threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns, finishing with a 139.3 passer rating.
Phillips had three tackles and a tackle for loss, but there wasn't much else seen from the position group. With an overall grade of just 59.9, Lynch was the highest-ranked Vikings defensive lineman; Phillips (58.8), Bullard (56.5) and Blacklock (55.3) were nearly equally mediocre.
A 40-3 final score certainly humbled the Vikings defense.
Pressing Questions for 2022
1. Will Dalvin Tomlinson be back in the fold?
Tomlinson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March; will the Vikings look to re-sign him for the upcoming season or beyond?
The big man up front made an impact throughout the season and, as mentioned previously, his absence was sorely felt by Minnesota when Tomlinson missed four-plus games with a calf injury.
Salary cap always will be considered, but it seems likely that General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell would appreciate keeping Tomlinson around if the price was right.
Additionally worth mentioning is that Tomlinson isn't the only one in the d-line room slated to test the waters.
Bullard and Tonga, who each signed one-year deals with Minnesota for the 2022 campaign, will enter free agency if they don't secure a new deal before then.
It will certainly be interesting to see what the Vikings defensive line looks like in 2023.
View postgame celebration photos following the Vikings 33-30 win in overtime vs. the Bills at Highmark Stadium.
2. Will the Vikings maintain a 3-4 base defense next season?
With Donatell no longer overseeing the defense, the Vikings scheme for 2023 will be changing.
Last spring, Minnesota moved defensive ends to outside linebackers for the first time since the 1985 season. All eyes will be on the new Vikings new defensive coordinator to see how he adjusts the defensive scheme for the upcoming season.
That coach's philosophy could play a role in answering the previous question, as well. Will the Vikings look to keep a similar style or go back to a 4-3 base?
Time will tell.