The Minnesota Vikings rank second in the NFL in both total yards and points this season. If they finish there, it will be the highest spot of Mike Zimmer’s tenure in Minnesota, improving on top-five defensive rankings from the previous two seasons.
As the Vikings get set to face the Carolina Panthers on the road, Ron Rivera – a defensive coach himself – said he’s impressed by the growth of Zimmer’s defense.
“I will say this: In the last couple of years, you’ve noticed that they’ve gotten progressively better,” Rivera said. “They’re very consistent. They are a very aggressive, attacking defense. But the hallmark will be if they win their division, win in the playoffs and get themselves to the Super Bowl, I think people will talk about them in the same breath as a the really great defenses.”
Rivera credited the Vikings’ talent on the defensive side with their continued improvement. Last year, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith all went to the Pro Bowl and Danielle Hunter, who had 12.5 sacks last season, was left off the Pro Bowl roster.
“I love the personnel, I think they’ve done a really nice job, I think Rick Spielman’s done a great job with the personnel,” Rivera said. “I think what coach [Zimmer] has done in terms of developing it, getting to understand and have a feel for what they do.”
The Panthers’ head coach was particularly complimentary of the Vikings’ secondary, which sports the No. 1 safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus rankings in Smith.
“It all starts, I think, with what the secondary does,” Rivera said. “They are up there, they are physical with receivers, they don’t give them clean releases, that gives the pass rush an opportunity to get going vertical.”
Carolina’s defense has also put up strong numbers, ranking sixth in yards per game, 10th in points allowed and fifth in sacks.