Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Minnesota Vikings Defensive Improvement Led by an Unlikely Trio of Safeties

The Vikings safeties have led the defensive turnaround for Minnesota to start the year, including a huge win against the 49ers

The Vikings came into the season with very low expectations on defense. They were coming off a season in which they ranked 31st in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. Heck, they were so bad that the Vikings defense can be singled out as the reason Daniel Jones got paid. Daniel Jones threw for over 230 yards a grand total of three times in 2022, including playoffs. Two of those three games were against the Vikings. Giants fans can literally blame Minnesota’s defensive ineptitude for the dilemma they currently find themselves in with their quarterback. The defense’s improvement thus far in year one under Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores has been stark. While there is plenty of credit to go around, the effort has been spear-headed by the Vikings safety play.

Minnesota Vikings Defensive Improvement Led by an Unlikely Trio of Safeties

Camryn Bynum: PFF Grade 85.7

Maybe no Vikings safety or player has taken a bigger step forward than Camryn Bynum. He joined the organization as a fourth-round pick in 2021, the perception being that he’d compete for a backup role. He spent most of 2021 as a backup, flashing at times early and ended up starting a few games late. Despite his solid play as a rookie, the Vikings still drafted safety Lewis Cine at the back of the first round in 2022.

The prevailing thinking was that Cine would immediately challenge Bynum for his starting job and likely win. Bynum surprised by starting training camp at the top of the depth chart and staying there all throughout. Cine wound up breaking his leg early in the season and Bynum wasn’t challenged again on his way to a solid season, starting all 17 games for a bad defense.

This year Bynum’s job was once again a large talking point with Cine returning from injury. However, this year Bynum completely ran away with the job, and his start to the season has been stellar. Bynum has been one of Minnesota’s best tacklers and an all-around playmaker in the secondary. With the season on the line in primetime against the 49ers on Monday, he exploded with two interceptions and a forced fumble. That led to a well-deserved NFC Player of the Week award. If Bynum keeps this up, an All-Pro nod may not be out of the question.

Josh Metellus: PFF Grade 69.3

Fellow Vikings safety Josh Metellus also joined the organization as a fourth-round pick, albeit a year earlier than Bynum. Unlike Bynum, Metellus was largely brought in to be a special teams addition. That’s essentially what Metellus was relegated to through last season. His teammates, however, thought so much of him that they named him a captain in 2022 despite his status as a backup.

During camp in 2023, Metellus made an immediate impression on Brian Flores and the new coaching staff. It was to the point where the Vikings made a point to extend Metellus right after camp concluded. The move raised a lot of eyebrows from fans wondering why money was being committed to a special teamer. In the first game of the year against the Bucs, Metellus’ updated role became apparent, as did the reasoning for the salary bump.

Even in base sets, Flores was deploying three safety looks exclusively from the get-go. In those looks, Metellus has been a force while being used interchangeably in the box and dropping back in coverage. His importance to the defense early on was to the point where it was visibly noticeable when he was off the field. He got banged up early against the Eagles, and the Eagles proceeded to run for over 200 yards on the Viking defense as a result. Metellus may not quite be in All-Pro contention like Bynum is, but the sudden improvement has been shocking.

Harrison Smith: PFF Grade 73.9

The veteran stalwart of the group, Harrison Smith has been a steady presence in Minnesota for over a decade. He was the best player on some dominant defenses during the Mike Zimmer years. Smith has a resume that matches or even eclipses do-it-all Hall of Famers such as Troy Polamalu. He’s up there on Viking leaderboards in all major categories, including sacks. With that said, father time comes for everyone.

Smith was the only Vikings safety that didn’t start hot. He was missing tackles on a regular basis through the first few weeks and didn’t make any of his usual splash plays. Questions about his age (34) and his continued ability as a playmaker started arising. Then his Week 4 performance against the Panthers put those questions to bed with three sacks and a game-winning forced fumble. Since then, he’s been back to his normal reliable self as a tackler and deep safety. The splash plays still aren’t consistently there, so he may still be showing some decline. But given the play of the other safeties around him, he may just be passing the torch in that respect.

Overall, Flores has centered his entire scheme around the three players above. It’s a very different approach to getting three safeties on the field consistently, and it’s working. Flores is showing that defense can be coached the same as offense. Adapt your scheme to your personnel and good things can happen. With the Vikings safety group leading the way, the defense may just be able to help this team climb back into playoff contention.

Main Photo: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message