The Minnesota Vikings take on the Detroit Lions at home this week, and this game has become extremely important for both teams. Each squad hopes to emerge as a playoff contender this season, and in order to do that, winning divisional games is key. For Minnesota, this game quickly has become about how well the young Vikings players will perform.
Heading into Week 3, the Vikings will be without a number of key defenders. All-Pro safety Harrison Smith has been declared out with a concussion that was suffered during Monday’s Week 2 loss in Philadelphia.
Additionally, rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. will miss his second straight game with his quad injury, and linebacker Eric Kendricks is deemed as questionable ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s divisional matchup.
With so many question marks on the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings will need their young depth pieces to come up big in order to win this game. Here are four defensive players to keep an eye on.
Since Andrew Booth has played just two total snaps for the Vikings in his young NFL career, Akayleb Evans has had to step up as one of the main Vikings reserves. In Monday night’s loss against Philly, Evans played 21 defensive snaps.
While he won’t be the main guy covering Detroit’s receivers on Sunday, he will certainly play a role. So far, Evans has not been noticeable for many occasions of blown coverage, and the Vikings need his consistent play to continue.
No Harrison Smith immediately opens up a starting spot in the Vikings secondary. Neither Ed Donatell or Kevin O’Connell have confirmed whether that starter would be Lewis Cine or Josh Metellus. Either way, it seems safe to expect that both will see lucrative numbers of snaps this weekend.
Cine created a reputation for himself as a speed demon and aggressive, hard-hitting safety both against the run and in pass coverage. He made a number of ridiculous plays with his athleticism at Georgia to garner a first-round selection from the Vikings, and now he has to back that draft stock up against a talented Detroit offense.
As a third-round pick behind Troy Dye, Jordan Hicks, and Eric Kendricks, initially it didn’t seem like Brian Asamoah would be all that consequential to the 2022 Vikings. After a strong training camp and preseason though, Asamoah emerged as the top backup LB behind Hicks and Kendricks.
Through two games, Asamoah has not played a single defensive snap yet, but he has been a key contributor to the special teams unit, with 32 total snaps.
So far this season, Kendricks has played 100% of the defensive snaps, but now that he’s questionable to play, the Vikings star could go from 100% to 0% in the blink of an eye. Even if he does play, it seems probable that he could need a few snaps off to take the pressure off his injured toe. We could see Asamoah play his first defensive snaps on Sunday.
It may be just Cam Dantzler’s third season in the NFL, and while Sunday will be just the 20th game that the CB has started, this week the Vikings will need their cornerback to step up as a veteran leader.
Overall, Dantzler played well on Monday night, but he was the main reason why Quez Watkins broke off a 53-yard touchdown that ultimately put the game out of reach for the Vikings. Patrick Peterson cannot be expected to keep up with Amon-Ra St. Brown this week, and without Smith as a safety blanket, the pressure falls on Dantzler to slow down Detroit’s top receiver.
Over his past eight games, St. Brown has recorded 8+ receptions. and in those games, the Lions are 4-4, including a last-second win over the Vikings last season. It’s on Dantzler to make sure the emerging star doesn’t cause the Vikings to lose again.