‘Terrible’ third downs yielded in TD drives

Mike Zimmer called the Vikings’ third-down defense “terrible,” but the third-and-longs they yielded were even more troubling. We break down the third-down defense against Atlanta and how it contributed to each of the Falcons’ touchdown drives.

Chad Greenway and Mike Zimmer both had it right.

Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive-minded head coach, called the team’s third-down defense on Sunday “terrible,” despite the 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Greenway, the veteran linebacker who had to sit out with a broken rib and broken hand, said the game could have been blown wide open earlier if Minnesota’s didn’t blow it on their third-down defense.

That will be a focus for the Vikings on a short week as they prepare to face the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

“It’s terrible. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Zimmer said. “I’m extremely disappointed in that. We’ll put a lot more time and effort into it than what we have. It’s disappointing because that should be one of our strengths.”

The Vikings defense gave up first downs or touchdowns on 10 of the 15 third-down situations the Falcons faced.

Worse yet, the Vikings had the league’s top-ranked offense in third-and-long situations plenty of times to expect a better performance. The Falcons were 3-for-4 on third downs with 10 or more yards to go. In fact, the Vikings surrendered a first down or touchdown on third-and-7 or longer in all four of Atlanta’s touchdown drives.

“Some stuff broke down. (QB Matt Ryan) was able to get out of the pocket and make some throws. The long-yardage ones especially are the ones that kill you, kind of takes you back to last year when we gave up a lot of third-and-longs that have no business getting done and just continue drives and end in points and hurt your team,” Greenway said. “Obviously coach knows and has seen a lot of games over his years and he understands how this game works and he knows how important it is on third-down defense.”

It wasn’t just the Atlanta game that is torturing the Vikings’ Vikings’ third-down defense. They are now 30th in the league in that category, giving up a first down or touchdown 50 percent of the time this season.

On the Falcons’ first touchdown drive, the Vikings gave up third downs three times, including a 24-yard touchdown pass on a blown coverage on third-and-7.

On Atlanta’s second touchdown drive, the Vikings gave up a 15-yard completion to Julio Jones on third-and-10, a 21-yard completion to Jones on third-and-20 and an 8-yard completion to tight end Levine Toilolo on third-and-3.

Their third touchdown came on a third-and-7 with a short pass to Devin Hester, who was met by Captain Munnerlyn before the first-down marker. But Hester shook loose of the tackle attempt and went 36 yards for the touchdown.

Atlanta’s fourth touchdown drive was aided by a third-and-10 situation that was converted with a 15-yard pass to Roddy White. After that drive, the Vikings had the Falcons in one more third-and-long situation – third-and-12, and Anthony Barr made short work of that with a 10-yard sack.

“Both teams did a good job on the third downs. They caught us in a couple pressure situations and we didn’t cover as good as we needed to,” Zimmer said.

“First of all, we have to do what we’re supposed to do. When we’re in position to make a tackle, we have to make a tackle. We have to understand what the situation is on down and distances. We have to understand how to rush the quarterback, what the rush lanes are, and the concepts. We should be better.”

For the season, the Vikings have given up 28 of 56 third-down attempts.

“It’s something we’ve shown in learning this defense and through training camp that it’s something we can do really well,” Greenway said. “We just have to make the plays when they come our way and keep them contained.”

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