Vikings will have to decide whether to stick with 3-4 or revert to 4-3

NFL: JAN 15 NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Giants at Vikings
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When Kevin O’Connell became Minnesota’s new coach last year, he explained that the defense would pivot from decades of a base defense with a four-man front to a 3-4 look. With defensive coordinator Ed Donatell now gone, the question becomes whether the Vikings will stick with the 3-4 or revert to a 4-3?

The candidates who are interviewed for the job will shed considerable light on the matter. Maybe O’Connell will consider coaches who are schooled in either approach.

The decision will drive personnel moves in the offseason. The Vikings were in the process of acquiring the right players for Donatell’s defense, most notably adding inside linebacker Jordan Hicks and saying farewell to outside linebacker Anthony Barr.

In hiring Donatell, O’Connell was hoping for Vic Fangio’s defense. O’Connell could (and perhaps should) try to hire Fangio, if the goal was (and still is) to simulate Fangio’s defense.

Whatever O’Connell does, the defense must improve in 2023. If it had been just a little bit better in 2023, the Vikings wouldn’t have been in so many close games.

The offense is good enough to take the team to where it wants to go. The defense held it back in 2022. Absent real improvement, next year could be yet another season of hoping that “just good enough” is good enough for the fans.

35 responses to “Vikings will have to decide whether to stick with 3-4 or revert to 4-3

  1. Jim Leonhard makes a lot of sense. He played with O’Connell on the Jets. Leonhard also coached under Mike Pettine who most likely remains with the Vikings. Also several decent Badger NFL prospects he might be able to entice in college free agency.

  2. The Vikings overachieved this year which is going to make it hard on them next year if they don’t get back to 13-4 (unlikely that they do) with expectations. The Vikings defense was likely to improve next year with or without Donatell as they turn over the aging defensive core.

  3. If you want to keep D Hunter, you go to 4-3. Hicks was awful! Slow is an understatement.

  4. Just good enough will be fine with a majority of Vikings fans. Most agree with ownership….just get to the playoffs and “anything can happen.”

    Well – anything just can’t happen with the current roster. They should have gutted it last off-season. Ownership seems to listen to jersey buying fans and homer broadcasters like Paul Allen and KFAN. Keep extending the old favoritos rather than taking a year or two to bote the bullet….get bad so they can get good. Draft and develop a QB instead of overpaying for one who WILL NEVER Lead them to a championship.

    If you cannot realistically win a championship, why bother? Retool and try again. Mediocrity – accepted by Vikings fans for 62 years.

  5. Either way, Vikings have peaked as a franchise, and will now be 3rd or 4th in that division. Bad defense, mediocre QB.

  6. The 3-4 gives you a lot more opportunity to be creative, not that you could tell that from watching the Vikings play it. I would like to see us go 4-3 and get more out of Wannom, Hunter, Jones, etc. Using kendriks like a big strong safety and Harrison Smith like a cornerback showed clearly why they don’t play those positions. Are they over the hill or being asked to do things they can’t do? I don’t know but Donatelle didn’t know either.

  7. GO BACK TO 4-3 UNLESS YOU GET SOME DRAFT PICKS THAT HAVE SOME SPEED AND POWER TO GET OFF THE LINE. SMITH WAS GREAT FOR ABOUT HALF THE SEASON BUT AS THE SEASON WENT ON WE CAN SEE WHY GREEN BAY LET HIM GO. AS FOR THE REST OF THE LINEBACKERS THEY LOOKED COOKED AS THEY WENT TOWARDS THE FINISH LINE. THIS TEAM PEAKED VS THE BILLS WHEN THE BILLS GIFTED THEM A WIN WITH A 1/1000 FUMBLE TO PICK UP 1 YARD.

  8. This defense is old. That’s the real problem.

    Not sure 3-4 or 4-3 matters nearly as much as one gap vs two gap….you might play an entire game and only be in “base” for 5 snaps. One thing Fangio and his students like Donatell do like to do is always have 2 off ball LBs on the field all the time, even in nickel and dime packages. Hicks simply isn’t fast enough to do that. Kendricks used to be, but he sure looked like a guy past his prime this year.

    The Vikings a) have to get better up front, and b) have to get younger everywhere else. There are way too many guys on this defense that are on the wrong side of 30 to expect significant improvement simply by changing coordinators.

  9. SORRY for your Vikings’ misfortune, Mike…I wish your Long Due Super Bowl victory would soon happen….It seemed
    this year was a potential Finally Here moment for you and your fans.

    This is coming from a Packers’ fan…so we are not all imbecilic, ignominious idiots as some of the crazy, over-emotional
    fanatics cast themselves as, unfortunately.

    Best wishes, Mike….ENJOY your acumen, always….

  10. When coaches and GMs talk about installing a 3-4 defense it often seems to be a cover to hide behind and bide them time.Things like ‘oh it will take 3 or 4 drafts to begin to get it right’ and trying to convert college DEs into OLBs.

  11. They literally scored one point more than they did last year, lol. Five less than two years ago. They just won all of the close games this year. The defense has stunk for three years straight now. It’s the players. But the media said the offense is better, so it’s better. Groupthink.

  12. Doesn’t really matter what type of D it is. They need to get rid of the old players on the back side of there careers…
    H.Smith, J.Hicks & Z.Smith. I’d hang on to P.Peterson & E.Kendricks. But I’d understand if they cut loose those players too. I’ve been 60+ year fan of the Viks. This past years D probably made the purple people eaters of the late 60’s and early 70’s collectively shake there heads.

  13. realfootballfan says: (A,K.A. Confused Football Fan)
    January 20, 2023 at 8:57 am

    They literally scored one point more than they did last year, lol. Five less than two years ago. They just won all of the close games this year. The defense has stunk for three years straight now. It’s the players. But the media said the offense is better, so it’s better. Groupthink.

    ***************************************
    What in the WORLD does the AMOUNT of points compared from one year to another have to do with how you determine how good it is? That is the prime example of your “Group think”.. that a STATISTIC on amount of yards or points is what is crucial.

    This year the offense won 13 FREAKING games, 11 of them by just a few points, because when the offense HAD to get something done they DID. Last year, the actually ALSO did, MANY times, but the defense gave it up at the end of both halves.

    As putrid as this defense was, (yardage wise) the DIFFERENCE between the past two years and this year, is that in 13 of those games, they held the opponent to more FIELD goals and got turnovers in the RedZone and the offensive efforts held up.

    So, sorry, the statement is accurate, and in fact HAS BEEN for three years – the offense can take this team where it need to go. It’s one of the best in the league.

    Try to pay attention to the details “REAL” fan….

  14. whoatherebuddy says:
    January 20, 2023 at 8:08 am
    Either way, Vikings have peaked as a franchise, and will now be 3rd or 4th in that division. Bad defense, mediocre QB.
    <
    They just won 13 games w/a first year head coach in what was supposed to be a re-building year. They will be Kings of the North for the foreseeable future.

  15. I see them reverting to the 8-9.
    Great ideas to replace the old guys on defense. All they have to do is hit on every one of their four draft choices. Or attract free agents, except all their money will be going to Jefferson and the Kirkster.

  16. toothfairyretributionmanifesto says:
    January 20, 2023 at 9:34

    They just won 13 games w/a first year head coach in what was supposed to be a re-building year.
    __________

    I keep hearing about how good the Viking’s record was this season in spite of it being a re-building year, in what universe has this ever been a re-building year?

    The Vikings are old. All the way through their roster.
    Old and slow by NFL standards.
    You’ve already purged just about everybody from your 2021 draft class and you’ve got a total of 4 draft picks in the upcoming draft.
    Not to mention you’ve already had your franchise QB in place for 5 years already.

    How has this last season been a re-build?
    What’s really changed?
    Because it just looks like the same old Vikings to me.

  17. This year there were at least 3 main problems: (1) Donatell’s scheme was poor; (2) the defenders are aging; and (3) the scheme didn’t suit the player’s strengths. The D stunk under Zim’s 4-3 scheme the last few years too, although a lot of that was due to injuries. As they re-build the defense, all I care about is adding speed and adjusting the scheme to fit the players’ strengths. The first part is on the GM, the second is on the coaches. With an average D t go with a top 10 offense this team could have made at least some noise in the playoffs, but as it was constructed, they never had a chance.

  18. Another offseason. Another Vikings rebuild.

    And still nothing but a trophy case/echo chamber.

  19. This defense is old. That’s the real problem.

    Not sure 3-4 or 4-3 matters nearly as much as one gap vs two gap….you might play an entire game and only be in “base” for 5 snaps. One thing Fangio and his students like Donatell do like to do is always have 2 off ball LBs on the field all the time, even in nickel and dime packages. Hicks simply isn’t fast enough to do that. Kendricks used to be, but he sure looked like a guy past his prime this year.

    The Vikings a) have to get better up front, and b) have to get younger everywhere else. There are way too many guys on this defense that are on the wrong side of 30 to expect significant improvement simply by changing coordinators.

    **************************************************

    Very well said. The defense has been on the decline over the last 3 years or so, going back to Zimmer’s last two seasons. Pretty much every opposing QB was carving up the defense this year with large holes in coverage all over the middle of the field. The defense also struggled to consistently stop the run. They definitely need to get younger and more aggressive in all aspects on the defense.

  20. The defense has absolutely no swagger. They get excited when they have a turnover, but they’re not out there, manhandling anybody. I don’t know how many times I saw running backs, push the pile without help. Sloppy tackling, poor angles that left players grasping at air when a wide out went by. These things are fixable. And yes, scheme will matter. But since it’s been going on for years, you have to wonder about the mindset of those defensive players. Last year you could visibly see them quit. I didn’t see that this year, but they certainly didn’t walk or act like they were the big dogs on the block and we’re going to stop you. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one is going to believe in you. And lastly, oh I wonder if the players simply aren’t able to grasp some of the complicated reads expected of them. They can’t really afford to play instinctively which they have been able to do mostly through college. A good offense throw a fake at you and you will go left when the scheme says go right. We seem to see a lot of that too. Do we need a simpler scheme or a different type of player mentally? I have absolutely zero answers, but I hope O’Connell does.

  21. It’s not a simple thing to go back and forth between 4-3 and 3-4. It can take years and is heavily dependent on the right personnel. I can’t believe they’d make a switch without hiring a new DC first. Wouldn’t that be his decision?

  22. I hope Kwesi and Kevin have an open mind about what type of defense they run. Interview the DC candidates and listen to what they think the defense should be and how they would build it. If they do stick with the 3-4, I hope they trade Hunter for a nice draft pick or two because he did not have the impact he usually does this year despite being injury-free. I would prefer that they keep him and have him rush the passer on every play.

  23. They’ll make some desperation move to try and catch the Lions and the Packers – who both have a better record this year.

  24. Are they over the hill or being asked to do things they can’t do? I don’t know but Donatelle didn’t know either.
    ++++++
    Both Smith and Kendricks are over the hill in the sense they are no longer difference-makers. They can contribute, but aren’t capable of being “the guy” any longer.

    Smaller guys losing a half-step.

  25. Scheme for the players you have. Don’t select a scheme and try to force players to fit

  26. philmccracken says:
    January 20, 2023 at 3:14 pm
    They’ll make some desperation move to try and catch the Lions and the Packers – who both have a better record this year
    __
    Is anybody surprised the packers are nfc north off-season champions again?

  27. Those Packers can’t have our off-season title. Plans have already been made for the banner hoisting and parade.

  28. Fangio?!?! Replace one guy on Medicare with another guy on Medicare? How about they hire somebody young and innovative?! You know, like they did at GM and HC.

  29. 1. The Vikings organization obviously recognizes what’s needed. Hence their draft choices in April ’22 — defense for three out of four of the top picks. Their top two choices got hurt; at least one of them, and probably both, will be back, with a year of film-watching behind them (hopefully).

    2. One of the most interesting things to happen this year is how the team showed an ability to unearth unexpected talent. Duke Shelley came from nowhere and played well. That didn’t just happen; it happened because the Vikings saw something where other teams didn’t.

    3. With three impact players and an overall youth movement, the ’23 defense will rise from not good to middle-of-the-pack and the team makes the wild card.

    4.”Fangio?!?! Replace one guy on Medicare with another guy on Medicare?” //// This is ageism, pure and simple, and is a contemptible thought.

  30. philmccracken says:
    January 20, 2023 at 3:14 pm
    They’ll make some desperation move to try and catch the Lions and the Packers – who both have a better record this year.
    //////
    Both of those teams had a nice 5-6 game run this year. Unfortunately for them, the nfl season is 17 games long.

  31. The Vikings unearthed the great Duke Shelley….he couldn’t turn around the Viking defense in year 1 but a couple of injured guys spent some time in the film room and they are going to hire a new defensive leader. Watch out.

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