The last few seasons for the Minnesota Vikings’ defense have been a struggle. They have been unable to generate a consistent pass rush, leaving their secondary to get exposed in the passing game. While there are certainly some issues to still work through, they have made steady improvements in 2022 as they are currently 7-1 and atop the NFC North division with a commanding 4.5-game lead.
A big reason for a turnaround in the pass-rushing department is Za’Darius Smith. Smith has terrorized the Vikings the previous three seasons as a member of the Green Bay Packers but was released this offseason as a cap casualty.
Minnesota is certainly lucky to have him as Smith had originally agreed to a deal to return to the Baltimore Ravens, the team he played the first four seasons of his career with. But, after not finalizing terms with Baltimore, he decided to join the Vikings.
Things have worked out about as well as Minnesota and Smith could have hoped. He is getting into the opponent’s backfield with regularity, which is exactly what the Vikings had signed up for. This past weekend against the Washington Commanders, Smith registered nine pressures in the game.
According to PFF, that makes him the only player in the NFL with multiple games of 9+ pressure this season. The first occurrence came in Week 6 when the Vikings went on the road and defeated the Miami Dolphins and Smith had 11 pressures.
Smith has been a force to be reckoned with this season. He has 8.5 sacks, registering at least 0.5 a sack in six out of eight games. He also has 15 and counting quarterback hits and leads the league with 13 tackles for loss.
This is the exact kind of production the Vikings have been looking for on the edge. They have failed to find a complement to Danielle Hunter for a while, but have plugged that gap in their game plan with Smith, who has picked up right where he left off in 2020 after playing in only one contest in 2021 because of injury.