Red zone defense key in Vikings’ 30-12 win

Time and again, the Chiefs were approaching the end zone and the Vikings kept them out in the first half. It was the defense that showed the most on a hot night in Kansas City.

One of the consistent problems for the Vikings in recent seasons has been winning on the road. In their first road game of the preseason, the Vikings used big plays in the defensive red zone to create a Mike Zimmer-style turning point of the game.

In the first half of the game, Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith, known for being a top game manager who rarely makes mistakes in the red zone, was consistently burned by the aggressive Vikings at critical times when Kansas City had an opportunity to take control of the game.

With the Vikings leading 7-0 midway through the first quarter, the Chiefs got their first opportunity to get deep into Vikings territory after a pair of short, unproductive drives. Smith attempted a bomb deep down the middle of the field to veteran Donnie Avery, but Josh Robinson, making his first appearance of the preseason, was called for a 42-yard pass interference penalty that put the Chiefs on the 10-yard line.

On the very next play, Smith went for the end zone and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn jumped the route and made the interception, preserving the 7-0 lead and dodging the first red zone bullet for the defense.

After Kansas City cut the lead to 7-2 following a safety, the Chiefs opened their next drive on their own 42-yard and drove the ball deep into Vikings territory again. Facing a third down on the Vikings 4-yard line on the first play of the second quarter, Smith was looking to complete a slant route, but didn’t see linebacker Chad Greenway flatten out his coverage and drop into the zone where the ball was being thrown. He not only made the interception, but returned it 31 yards to get the Vikings offense in good field position and preserving the 7-2 lead with the second red zone interception.

The Vikings didn’t hold the ball long and the defense was pushed back onto the field again. Kansas City once again drove deep into Vikings territory, but, when the chips were down, the Vikes were able to come up with the plays when they needed them.

Starting from his own 20-yard line, Smith led the Chiefs downfield with a long, sustained drive that included three third-down conversions to give Kansas City a first down on the Vikings 6-yard line.

On first down, the Vikings brought Munnerlyn on a corner blitz and forced Smith to get rid of the ball early. After a false start penalty pushed the Chiefs back 5 yards, Smith connected on a bubble screen with Avery for 8 yards down to the 3-yard line. On third down, the Vikings brought the pressure again while the Chiefs were trying to set up a screen to Knile Davis. The rainbow pass was too high for Davis to pull down and the Chiefs had to settle for a field goal that cut the Vikings lead to 7-5.

As it would turn out, those would be the last points the Chiefs would score until the final minute of the game as the Vikings ran away with a 30-12 win. Three times Kansas City got inside the Vikings 11-yard line, but came away with just three points. At a time when the game was still up for grabs, it was the denial of the Vikings defense to allow the Chiefs to get into the end zone that preserved the lead and gave the Vikings a defensive-minded turning point.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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