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Bleacher Report – Vikings

After slow start, Vikings defense is living up to expectations

By Matthew Coller

Following a Week 4 collapse in Los Angeles in which the Rams posted 38 points and 465 yards passing, it appeared the days of an elite defense in Minnesota might be coming to an end. But with a dominant performance over the Green Bay Packers and future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings defense has moved itself into the best-of-the-best category for the fourth straight season under head coach Mike Zimmer.

The Vikings currently rank toward the top in nearly every key statistical area. They rank fifth in yards allowed per play, eighth in opponent quarterback rating, third in sacks and third in yards per rushing attempt.

In more analytic-type areas, Pro Football Focus grades them the third overall defense in the NFL, Pro-Football Reference ranks the Vikings No. 2 in Expected Points Added and they sit fourth in opponent Adjusted Yards per Attempt.

Zimmer’s defense has also given up the fewest touchdown passes in the league this season and the Vikings have gone five games in a row without allowing more than 200 yards passing. That’s in an NFL in which teams average 248 yards passing per game.

The Vikings’ defensive-minded head coach said that earlier in the season there was reason to believe the defense was fading, but adjustments combined with a strong top-to-bottom roster have played a role in the resurgence.

“If you asked me that about seven weeks ago, I’d probably be pretty concerned,” Zimmer said. “It’s a long season. There are a lot of things that go on throughout the course of time. We still have good players. They’re playing good, they’re concentrating, they’re focusing on the things we have to try to do each week. I just think we’ve had to change a little bit from where we started the season and these guys have handled it well.”

Sustaining strong defensive play for as long as the Vikings have is a rare feat in the NFL.

Since 2015, only the Denver Broncos have allowed fewer yards per play and the Vikings are the only team that still ranks in the top five in yards per play after owning a top-five spot in 2017.

They are also the best in the league in third down percentage allowed over the last four years (32.1 percent) by more than three percent over the next best team.

Credit for the sustained defensive success can be spread around between a commitment to adding more talent and Zimmer’s willingness to make changes when opponents adjust to his scheme.

“Zim and the defensive staff…have gotten very creative of doing different things and using different combinations,” GM Rick Spielman said during the bye week. “You even see it last week when they did some certain things and Mackensie Alexander [sacked Matthew Stafford] and no one touched him coming off a blitz. It’s always evolving. When you are missing critical pieces, how do you adapt to that and adapt to that adversity? That’s what makes this staff unique.”

“Those are the adjustments that Zim made to the scheme, to me that’s great coaching,” Spielman added.

The addition of Sheldon Richardson has helped make up for injuries and weaknesses in other areas this season. Richardson picked up two sacks of Rodgers on Sunday night and ranks in the top 10 in QB pressures from an interior defensive linemen this season.

“One of the things we look for in our three-technique is first step quickness and then lateral quickness and he has those things really well,” Zimmer said. “But the thing that kind of surprised me a little bit is the power that he has with it. The good three-techniques I have been around have all kind of had those qualities.”

While the Vikings’ defense has been rolling, there’s still plenty of season remaining in which they will need to perform at a high level. The Vikings match up with Tom Brady this week and Russell Wilson in over the next two weeks.

“There are still six games left,” Zimmer added. “I was with a defense one time that we were fifth in the league with five games left and we ended up 13th. There’s still a long ways to go but we have to continue to keep pressing the issue, keep doing the things we have to do to win football games.”

The post After slow start, Vikings defense is living up to expectations appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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