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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.

  • Matt Slife

    I remember the days when you basically considered it a first down if the opposing team had 3rd and 5 or less. Now I feel comfortable with 3rd and 1. Oh how times have changed.

    • Jordan Musser

      Oh yeah Matt. Remember early 2000’s opponents were like 60% or better on 3rd down against us. It was horrible

      • cka2nd

        Yeah, the period between Carl Lee and Audray McMillan in 1992 and Winfield joining Williams here in 2004 was pretty brutal. DeWayne Washington and Corey Fuller each had pretty long careers but only lasted four years with us, and neither was a shut down corner. Jimmy Hitchcock was brought in to replace Washington and had three TD returns on seven interceptions in 1998, but he also gave up too many big plays, just like Washington. As big a fan of Winfield as I am, I can honestly say that Rhodes and Newman are the best coverage corners we’ve had since Carl Lee was teaming up with Najee Mustafaa (formerly Reggie Rutland) and McMillan.

    • Mark

      Nickelback Josh Robinson–nuff said

      • Blacker Mamba

        Fred Smoot, Cedric Griffin, Denard Walker, Brian Williams (Remember him? Was supposed to be a stud)

        • cka2nd

          Wow, I forgot Walker ever even played one season with us, and the less said about Fred Smoot, the better, but Cedric Griffin was a solid #2 CB before his injury in overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. He and Antoine Winfield both allowed a lot of catches in front of them and then tackled the receiver, but they were solid if not spectacular cover guys. And Brian Williams started 99 games over 10 years. He gave us four good years before Jacksonville signed him to a big money contract and gave them at least a couple of good years, if memory serves. Winfield, Willams and Griffin would have made a pretty nice trio of top corners for us, in my opinion.

  • Gordon Guffey

    I head a new nickname for the defense ~ {{{{ Zim Reapers }}}}

    I like it ~

    • gerald gladney

      That’s not bad Gordon!…and I believe offense begins with good defense…..can’t put points up if you don’t have the ball….

      • gerald gladney

        If we could just catch a break with the injuries!!!…they have had some great teams and couldn’t put it together…(been with vikes since ….eller, page, foreman, )and it’s been a rough ride….Vikes should have at the very least 3-4 rings…

        • Barry Jon Smith

          as long as we are awarding nicknames……how about the Zygloo for us bank

          • cka2nd

            No. The Vault was an okay idea, and maybe something playing off it’s looking like the prow of a Viking ship, but Zygloo just sounds weird, if only in my opinion.

    • Scott Myhre

      Thanks Gordon,

      I too like that nickname~~~ Zim Reapers!

      • Gordon Guffey

        Scott was it you that told it to me ~ ??? I remember it but couldn’t
        remember who it was ~ At my age my memory isn’t what it once was ~ LOL

        • cka2nd

          “The Zim Reapers!” And just in time for Halloween. Perfect!

        • Scott Myhre

          Gordon, I just like to stay in the background. I wanted you to take the credit because you write a lot of good stuff! Besides, at 68 I may or may not remember telling you either. LOL…..

    • Darren Wolf

      The nickname is not new. Zimmer approves and his foundation sells merchandise with the name. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b0488b1fbd8f7d562a14a3a97412b4adc1a86d1161b7a19e6548dfdd11058b51.jpg

      • Gordon Guffey

        I’m just saying its new to me ~ Its the first I had heard of it ~ Thanks for the update ~

  • Famfirst

    SKOL! Lets get to 6-2 at the break!

  • linus

    “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.” Really? Didn’t Coller write a couple of articles in the offseason about how difficult it is for a defense to remain great?

    • cka2nd

      And Coller is not necessarily wrong, if he wrote them, which is why Spielman and the front office deserve credit for locking in guys like Griffin, Joseph, Smith and Rhodes and seeming to have enough cap space to do the same with Barr, Kendricks and Hunter. That’s the core of the defense, and I doubt we’ll see any of them cut or jumping into free agency in the next two or three years because we can’t afford to pay them. Sendejo is also locked in, but we could survive if we had to cut him. We can live with Newman or Johnson retiring or not being re-signed after this season, or Robison after 2018, especially with Waynes and Alexander starting to step up for the former and Shamar Stephen rewarding the coaching staff’s faith in him with much improved play this year, not to mention Jaleel Johnson and the Three Amigos at defensive end. Zimmer, Edwards, Gray and the rest of the defensive coaching staff have really been well served by this front office.

  • linus

    It’s not just rushing TDs. The Vikings have given up fewer total TDs than all but three teams in the league, and each of those three teams has played just five games (versus 6 for the Vikings).

  • Pete

    It’s looking like MacKenzie Alexander is turning into a better cover guy than Waynes.

    • Barry Jon Smith

      agreed! however i’e noticed some improvement for waynes the last couple games

      • Pete

        He did get a pick, but you’ll notice they always pass against him. Maybe it’s because Rhodes always has his man covered, or maybe because they get open against Waynes? Zim will figure it out. I was always high on Alexander, his was a shut down corner in college.

    • Troy Athmann

      He plays slot, not outside.

      • Pete

        Currently, maybe not for long.

        • cka2nd

          I thought Alexander was mostly playing outside. Anyone have the play count stats?

          • Pete

            I think he plays mostly slot, which I think is even more difficult than outside.

  • Eric Bakker

    SKOL Vikes! Great article!

  • Blacker Mamba

    After being horrible on defense for so long, the last few years have been awesome. I remember watching other teams and being envious of just the defensive pursuit

  • todd

    Lots and lots of optimism in these threads and why not……love it. Teddy s almost back. Everything purple is all peachy!! I wonder if Rogers has anything to do with it?

  • Jon

    Everyone dissing the players from a decade ago when they played in a flawed system…. we basically let them play catch and then tackled after the catch.

  • Allen Carter

    We still need to be more aggressive on offense & score about 30+ a game. Go Vikings!

    • cka2nd

      Except very few offenses can score 30 points a game, and one with Case Keenum at QB and a solid but not excellent offensive line is very, very unlikely to be able to do so.





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Previous Story When could we see Teddy Bridgewater back under center? Next Story Jerick McKinnon says Teddy Bridgewater makes teammates ‘feel like he’s with us’