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Explaining the Vikings’ defensive success in 9 stats

The Minnesota Vikings’ defenses have ranked among the best in the NFL over the last two seasons, so it should come as no shock that the Vikings are among the best in the league again. How good have they been? Let’s have a look at nine stats that tell the story…

Points per game allowed: 17.2

Rank: 5

The Vikings have only given up more than 20 points in one game this year, a 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They held two of the league’s better quarterbacks under 20, giving up 19 to Drew Brees and 14 to Matthew Stafford. Minnesota’s defense would rank higher if not for garbage time points by both the Saints and the Bucs. New Orleans scored a touchdown with 1:56 left to bring them within 10 points and Tampa Bay threw a TD to DeSean Jackson when trailing 31-10. Last year, the Vikings finished sixth in points allowed and in 2015 they were fifth.

Yards per play allowed: 4.8

Rank: 3rd

If you want to figure out whether your defense has been playing well, the first stat you should check is yards per play. As mentioned, point totals can be influenced by late, meaningless scores or field position. Yards per play shows you whether your defense is generally shutting teams down or giving up big chunks of yards on a regular basis. In this case, the Vikings’ defense isn’t allowing opponents to move the ball with much success.

Safety Harrison Smith’s Pro Football Focus score: 94.0

Rank: 1

You need not look much farther than the last two games to understand the level of play the Vikings have received from Harrison Smith this year. On Monday night, he intercepted Mitch Trubisky to set up a game-winning field goal, then against the Packers, he picked up 1.5 sacks, an interception and defended two passes. Smith is the ultimate all-around safety who can make big plays in the run, as a blitzer or in deep coverage.

Xavier Rhodes’ passer rating against: 52.4

Considering the competition that Xavier Rhodes has faced this season – starting the year with Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown and Mike Evans – his success has been remarkable, even by his standards. Rhodes’ combination of work ethic, size, speed and length makes him a very difficult matchup, even for the quickest or tallest wide receivers. He’s been shadowing top receivers every week, making it difficult for opponents to gameplan for their most skilled weapons.

Yards per rush allowed: 3.2

Rank: 3

The Vikings’ run defense was average last season and they still had a top defense. This year, it’s been magnificent. There was concern heading into the season that there would still be some bumps in the road against the run because of Sharrif Floyd’s absence, but Tom Johnson has filled in admirably and linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks have performed well stopping opposing RBs if they get past the D-line.

Rushing TDs allowed: 1

Rank: 1

There haven’t been many opportunities for opponents to punch the ball in this year.

Linval Joseph’s run stop percentage: 16.1%

Rank: 1

For years now, Vikings teammates and coaches have said that Linval Joseph is the best nose tackle in the NFL and he’s showing it this year. Joseph is impossible to handle with just a center because of his combination of strength and quickness. He single-handedly opens up holes for the linebackers or safeties to make plays.

Everson Griffen sacks: 7.0

Rank: 4

Everson Griffen has been an elite player at the defensive end spot for a long time, but he’s stepped his game up even more this year, dominating opposing teams’ left tackles. The Vikings pair of DEs might be the most impressive tandem in the league and Griffen’s success this might be in part because Danielle Hunter is garnering so much focus. Or because Griffen’s power, quickness and determination makes him very difficult to stop.

Third down percentage allowed: 25.0%

Rank: 1

Third down percentage can be a product of small sample size, but it also says something about how your team responds when you know the opponent has to throw the ball. The Vikings’ front four has been extremely successful at pressuring on third down and when opposing QBs look for their top receivers, they are often covered by Xavier Rhodes.





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