Michael Pierce Expected to Return at Perfect Time

PHOTO: ANTHONY SOUFFLE – STAR TRIBUNE

The last few days for the Minnesota Vikings have been pretty disheartening. Dallas came to town with something called a Cooper Rush at quarterback and somehow beat them at US Bank Stadium. To make matters worse, it was announced the next day that Danielle Hunter would miss the rest of the season with a pectoral injury.

At 3-4 on the season, and with a difficult slate of games upcoming, reality isn’t shining much light on the purple and gold this week. But there’s one piece of good news that’s flown under the radar and it’s a pretty significant development.

Barring a setback, DT Michael Pierce is expected to return to the Minnesota defensive line on Sunday. This is a huge W, especially given Hunter is going on IR.

This just in: The Ravens like to run.

Stopping the run against Baltimore is going to be the key to beating them as long as Lamar Jackson is their QB. Whether it’s the quarterback or the running backs, the threat to run is there every single play. Baltimore currently ranks 7th in run play percentage (45%) this season and 5th in runs per game (30.6).

Minnesota’s rush defense has gotten progressively better throughout the season and getting Michael Pierce back should only help. The 6’0″, 340 pound defensive tackle has been missed and, with Hunter out, his presence is more necessary than it has been all year.

Hunter didn’t grade out as an elite run defender this season (64.8 via PFF) but very few can make plays like this. Pierce adds a playmaker on defense that needs to be accounted for. That’s a big deal now that they don’t have to worry about #99.

Big stretch for Vikings and Pierce

Vikings fans hope we finally see an extended stretch where Pierce stays on the field and plays up to his potential. Michael has played in just four of the Vikings seven games this season. Spielman signed the 28-year-old (who turns 29 this weekend) before the 2020 season, but Pierce opted out before it started, citing COVID concerns.

So since his signing, Pierce has been active for just 3 of the 20 games the Minnesota Vikings have played. We’ve been told Pierce is a great run stopper, and his numbers pre-Vikings agree. But, what he’s done in his three games here haven’t lived up to the hype.

From 2016 to 2018, Pierce finished with a PFF run grade of 81.4 or better. In 2017 (87.9) and 2018 (91.8) he was especially good against the run. His grade started to fall in 2019, just before the Vikings signed him. Now in three games this season, his PFF grade sits at 64.4.

The Minnesota Vikings season is on life support and beating a superior Baltimore Ravens team on Sunday is the only way for it to breath on its own again. If Pierce can’t crank his performance back up to expectations, it’s not just an issue for his career going forward, but could be a key reason why the Vikings season officially dies by late Sunday afternoon.

He’s playing against his former team and it’s a contract season so I expect Michael Pierce to bring the fire this weekend.

Cooper Carlson | Minnesota Sports Fan