The Minnesota Vikings go into week 6 with the 15th ranking rushing defense according to Pro Football Focus. They are also 21st by yards allowed and facing a problematic Carolina Panthers rushing attack. The Vikings defensive tackles, Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce, will be the key to slowing that attack down. Christian McCaffery’s status is still up in the air but Chuba Hubbard has filled in well with 288 total yards in relief.
The Vikings Defensive Tackles Must Stop the Panthers Rushing
Tomlinson was the most flashy free agent signing the Vikings had in the off-season signing a contract for two years and $22 million. In the first two games of the 2021 season, Tomlinson drew the ire of Viking fans for his poor performances. Vikings fans had high expectations for Tomlinson given the contract he was signed to. By Tomlinson’s standards, the first two games were disappointing individual performances. As a team, they gave up 127 yards rushing to Joe Mixon and 100 or more yards in all but one game.
In Tomlinson’s years with the New York Giants he was among the top interior linemen against the run, but thus far with the Vikings he hasn’t been impressive. For the Vikings to beat the Panthers, Tomlinson will need to return to form in stopping the run.
Pierce Needs to be a Force in the Middle
Michael Pierce was signed prior to the 2020 season as a free agent before sitting out the entire 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns. Pierce signed a four-year contract averaging $9 million per season. Pierce has only appeared in four games as a Viking and has been on the injury report in the last three weeks.
When Pierce was with the Baltimore Ravens he was one of the premier run-stuffing interior linemen in the NFL. He ranked in the top five at times according to Pro Football Focus. Pierce’s massive frame and bulk alone make him formidable but he also has surprising quickness and agility for his size. For Vikings fans, Pierce brings back memories of Pat Williams and Jerry Ball in terms of his make-up and strengths.
Of the two interior defenders, the Vikings were counting on Pierce to be the run-stopper the most. However, Pierce has been very underwhelming against the run this season. Strangely, he has been much better than expected rushing the passer this season. Some of the drop-off in play is due to the elbow injury that he sustained in the first game of the season.
Tomlinson and Pierce make up a large chunk of the Viking’s cap space on defense and were brought in to solidify the middle. It’s too early to say whether or not these signings were a good value. Both of these players were signed after having a down year with their previous team. Both were signed by the Vikings for more than they were making with their previous teams as well.
If these two do not turn the season around, questions will be raised about signing players coming off down years. The Vikings face off against the Panthers his week and they will be a run-heavy team. This week is as good as any for Tomlinson and Pierce to return to form.