Has the Vikings’ defense been good this season? has it been bad? is it somewhere in the middle?
The answer is a bit complicated. There are some numbers that suggest Ed Donatell’s unit is off to a strong start to the year. there are other numbers that indicate the defense has mostly struggled and is an area of concern going forward. it all depends on the stats you value.
Let’s start with the pessimistic view. Using the Football Outsiders’ DVOA (an opponent-adjusted efficiency metric), the Vikings’ defense ranked 25th in the NFL for three weeks. that’s largely due to his 31st-ranked run defense, but it’s not like his 20th-ranked pass defense was great, either. Minnesota’s defense ranks 18th in expected points added per play and 23rd in opponent hit rate.
If you prefer traditional stats, the Vikings rank 30th in total yards allowed per game at 413.3. they’re giving up 6.0 yards per play, which is tied for 26th.
none of that looks very good. and yet, you can also make the case that the defense is playing well because of how it limits points and gets the job done in big moments.
The Vikings have given up 55 points in three games, tied for ninth-fewest in the league. after holding the Packers to seven points, they gave up 24 points apiece to the Eagles and Lions. In their two games against teams other than the Vikings, including a Week 1 matchup against each other, the Eagles and Lions averaged 31 and 35.5 points, respectively.
Along with the Colts, the Vikings are one of two teams that haven’t allowed a point in the fourth quarter this season. that’s pretty impressive, no matter how you look at it.
Until now, the Viking defense has been an unbreakable unit. they’ve been strong on third downs, ranking 13th in allowing conversions on just over 34 percent of opponents’ third down plays. in the Vikings’ two victories, they came up with big plays when they needed to.
in week 1 against the packers, the vikings obviously benefited from christian watson’s missed touchdown on green bay’s first offensive play. But they sacked Aaron Rodgers out of field goal range on the Packers’ ensuing drive and packed A.J. dillon in fourth and goal of the 1 in the series after that. An interception by Harrison Smith and a forced fumble by Jordan Hicks helped keep the Packers scoreless until midway through the third quarter, by which time the Vikings were up 20-0. a breakup of eric kendricks’ pass on fourth down in the fourth quarter helped seal the win.
It’s true that in Week 2 against the Eagles, the Vikings’ defense was terribly shredded with 347 yards and 24 points in the first half. But to their credit, they adjusted and kept Philadelphia off the board for the rest of the game, leaving the door open for a possible comeback that the offense couldn’t put together.
Similar concerns arose Sunday against the Lions, who took a 14-0 lead without meeting much resistance. then the Vikings’ defense stiffened again, even without a blacksmith. Kendricks had another big fourth-down PBU in the second quarter. Hicks disrupted a drive-stopping pass in the final two minutes of the first half (a period of the game that was a huge problem last season). Patrick Peterson PBU forced a punt in the fourth quarter. Finally, another 4th and 1 late game stoppage kept the Vikings alive, and they eventually rallied for an unlikely victory.
All things considered, the safe conclusion is that we still don’t know if this is a good defense or not.
donatell and his staff need to make adjustments so receivers aren’t open early in games. Vikings can’t just sit back, give up tons of protection, and make communication mistakes in zone coverage. They may need to play more man and exert more pressure than donatell’s plan normally calls for.
Still, the pieces are still there to make this defense a good one. harrison phillips and dalvin tomlinson are playing well in the middle of the defensive line. Za’darius Smith and Danielle Hunter are playing well on the rim, although their effectiveness has been limited by quarterbacks who get rid of the ball quickly. Kendricks and Hicks have mostly been good at inside linebacker.
secondary is still a concern, but getting harrison smith back for the london game should help (even if josh metellus was solid against the lions). It will be interesting to see if newcomers Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth finally get into the mix.
The reality is that we just need to see more. It’s been a rocky start for the Vikings defense, but they’ve excelled when needed most. now let’s see what kind of adjustments you can make to avoid being trampled early in games.
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