EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings made multiple changes to their defensive corps this offseason, and those changes showed up in a big way in Week 1.
Minnesota handily defeated Green Bay 23-7 at home, thanks in part to a stout performance by a Vikings defense that made key tackles, recorded sacks and forced turnovers.
Free-agent additions Jordan Hicks, Harrison Phillips, Za'Darius Smith and Chandon Sullivan all made their regular-season debuts for Minnesota, and all contributed heavily in the game.
Hicks led the team with 14 tackles, and Smith notched a sack of his former teammate, Aaron Rodgers. Phillips played a significant role in a fourth-and-1 stop at the goal line, and Sullivan helped obstruct options for Rodgers in the slot.
Phillips spoke highly of the group's cohesiveness and also highlighted a more under-the-radar offseason signing in Jonathan Bullard.
"They wanted us to produce and play well; I think we've all done our best to put ourselves in position to do that," Phillips said Monday. "I like the way we've played together. Anytime you see someone make a huge splash play, it's so good to see the other guys on the play that made it happen. You look at that goal-line stand, and I don't know if anyone is talking about Bullard in the 3-technique position, but he set that edge, shot the guard back, I was able to get through, Za'Darius was able to get around, E.K. (Eric Kendricks) showed up. But [Bullard is] the one who made that play happen.
"You look at some of the other plays we had, the sacks, the pressures that we had, figure out why that is, it's because our secondary had them locked down," Phillips continued. "I think you go to the film and you have a big play like that goal-line stand, I'm feel pretty good and then I come in today and dapped up Bullard like 'Hey, man. That's all you. Thank you.' "
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with media members Monday after watching the game tape and offered his thoughts on the newcomers' contributions.
"Harrison Phillips, even some of the real quality snaps we get out of a guy like [Ross] Blacklock on some of those rush downs – 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, the responsibility and the fit for what we're going to try to do – and more importantly, how it impacts all of the other guys on the field in doing their jobs."
Sunday's Border Battle confirmed offseason decisions for O'Connell, Adofo-Mensah and others.
"If have the right kind of guys, which I feel like we do, those players will thrive in the right environment because we evaluated a lot of their fit in these schemes before they ever stepped foot here in Eagan," O'Connell said. "I'm sure week to week we will have to really evaluate, and as the adjustments inevitably play out like they do throughout the course of the season, we'll ask our guys to do more. Maybe change their fundamentals, techniques, alignments, assignments and just try to be at our best when it's required."
It's impossible to say, of course, that the Vikings defense – new and returning players alike – was perfect on Sunday, but the team is constantly looking for ways to improve.
"We're just taking it one game at a time," Smith said. "We've just got to go in and watch film and correct our mistakes. Because there were some mistakes that we made out there, and they took advantage of it. Once we correct our mistakes, we'll be good and get ready for next week."
Vikings newbies benefited from a home opener Week 1, thriving off an electric atmosphere. After a nearly six-month buildup to playing his first game at U.S. Bank Stadium (he did not play in the preseason), Hicks said the atmosphere lived up to the hype.
View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings season opener win over the Packers on Sept. 11 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"Everybody's been telling me all offseason, 'Wait until game day; it's going to be rocking.' And it was a lot of fun," Hicks said. "It's been a while since I've played in front of a crowd like this, and it's something you can't emulate.
"It definitely brings energy to the field, and us being on defense, how loud it gets on third down, it's something special," he added.
The Vikings won't benefit from a home crowd in Week 2, as they'll face the Eagles on the road for Monday Night Football. But that doesn't mean they won't be prepared.
After an impressive win over a division rival, Minnesota wants to build on that. And Smith believes they've got the tools to do it.
"You've got guys at every position – think about it. Harrison Phillips? You've got D.T. (Dalvin Tomlinson), you've got me, you've got D-Hunt (Danielle Hunter), you've got E.K., Hicks," Smith said. "There's just so many puzzle pieces, man, and we're putting it together. You can see, [Sunday] it showed up – and the world got a chance to see it."