Recent numbers show defense’s acclimation

The Vikings defense is coming along, but the last month’s stats have hammered that point home – whether it’s measuring third-down success, yards or points.

For fans that have been following the Vikings all season, they have seen a somewhat perceptible change in how the Vikings defense is attacking opposing offenses. Any time there is a change at the top, teams take time to make the adjustment.

One needs look no further than the complicated, fast-paced offense that Chip Kelly installed in Philadelphia last year. At the midway point of the season, Kelly’s Heroes were being mocked for trying to install a college-style offense and had a record of 3-5. In the 16 games since, the Eagles have posted a record of 13-3, won their division last year and are leading it this year.

As the Vikings got off to a 2-3 start this season under new head coach Mike Zimmer, it was the defense that was taking the lion’s share of the blame, even though the Vikings offense has struggled to put up points all season. Zimmer inherited a core of players who were unfamiliar with his system and he needed to break them of the habits they had picked up in a different defense.

Through the first five games, the results were mixed at best. The two games the Vikings had won were largely based on the offense putting up points to win games – scoring 34 against the Rams and 41 against the Falcons. In the other three games, the offense put up paltry totals of seven, nine and 10 points and the Vikings lost those games by totals of 23, 11 and 32 points.

But over the last month, a lot has changed. They may not always be obvious because, when the stats through Week 9 are taken into account, they still don’t look all that impressive. However, if you factor in the changes that have taken place to get the year-long numbers to drop, there have been some incredible changes that have taken place.

In something akin to a before-after picture for a weight loss plan, consider the following defensive stats for the Vikings through to the first five games, where they are now, and what it took to get those numbers to drop over the last four games. It might give you a different perspective of where the Vikings have been to date in the 2014 season and where they’re heading.

Third Down Conversions – Through five games, the Vikings were allowing teams to convert on 47.8 percent of their third-down opportunities, one of the worst percentages in the league. They have dropped their season percentage down to its current level of 37.6 percent (44 of 117), which represents a drop of more than 10 percent. Over the last four games, Minnesota’s opponents have converted just 12 of 50 third-down opportunities – an impressive 24 percent and well below the league average of 41 percent conversions.

Time of Possession – Through five games, the Vikings had a time of possession disparity of 30:52 to 29:08. The current number has opponents with a T.O.P. of 30:06 to 29:54. It may not seem like much, but to bring the season-long number down by almost a minute through the last four games translates into the Vikings needing to maintain almost a two-minute time of possession advantage to reduce the number that significantly.

Total Yards Allowed – Through five games, the Vikings had allowed 1,737 yards – an average of 347.4 yards a game. Through nine games, they have allowed 2,937 yards – an average of 326.3 yards a game and a drop of more than 20 yards a game for the course of the season. Over the last four games, the Vikings have allowed exactly 300 yards a game – a drop of almost 50 yards a game from the poor start the defense got off to.

Rushing Yards – Through their first five games, the Vikings had allowed 609 yards a game (a 121.8-yard average). They have now allowed 1,015 yards on the ground (a 112.8-yard average). Over the last four games, the defense has allowed 406 yards rushing – an average of 101.5 and more than a 20-yard drop from the initial five.

Passing Yards – Through five games, the Vikings had allowed 1,120 passing yards (a 224-yard average). They currently have allowed 1,922 passing yards (a 213.6-yard average). Over the last four games, they have allowed 802 passing yards – a 200.5-yard average and a 23.5-yard drop.

Sacks – Through five games, the Vikings had just 10 sacks – an average of two a game. Through nine games, the team has 30 sacks – an average of 3.3 sacks a game. To get that overall number to rise by 1.3 sacks a game, it has taken a lot of doing over the last four games. In that span, the Vikings have 20 sacks – an average of five per game.

Points allowed – Through five games, the Vikings allowed 126 points (an average of 25.2 points a game). The team has currently allowed 199 points – a 22.1-point average. To get that number to drop by more than three points, over the last four games the Vikings have allowed just 73 points – an average of 18.3 points a game, almost a full touchdown less than the team allowed in the first five games.

It took Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia half a season to get accustomed to what the scheme’s strengths and weaknesses were. Since then, the Eagles have been lights-out and have posted a record of 13-3 to take over the top dog spot in the NFC East. Only in the last couple of weeks has the improvement of the Vikings defense translated itself onto the field, but, if you look deeper into the numbers – especially as they pertain to getting off the field on third down and bring the heat down on quarterbacks – the turnaround has been impressive and something that may go a long way to carrying the team down the stretch in the second half of the season.

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