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Familiarity helps lead to closeouts late in games for Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings found a way to close out a close game with the defense on Sunday, a rarity a year ago. What’s different? Players and Mike Zimmer discuss.

During the 2014 season there were multiple games where the Minnesota Vikings held a lead late and then their opponents were able to drive down the field to score the winning touchdown or field goal at the end of the game to win it.

One example of that happening was when they played the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings had a 16-10 lead with 3:07 left on the clock when the Bills started their final drive. At one point in the drive the Vikings defense even had the Bills in a fourth-and-20 situation, but the Bills were able to convert that and score a touchdown with one second left on the clock.

Those situations seemed to become commonplace for the Vikings defense a year ago, and last Sunday the same type of situation seemed to be brewing against the Chiefs. The Vikings were up 16-10 and the Chiefs began their final drive of the game with 2:46 left on the clock.

The Chiefs offense had been struggling for most of the game but seemed to be gaining momentum in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings were able to step up this time around and force a turnover on downs.

“I don’t think we ever had a doubt that we were going to win the game,” said linebacker Anthony Barr. “I feel like throughout the game and even going into it we had confidence that we would be able to go into it and dominate. Play well enough to win the game and we were able to do that.”

One of the biggest reasons for the change from a year ago is that players are more comfortable in head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense. Last year, players were still learning the system and getting used to what they were supposed to be doing in different situations.

On the fourth-and-20 that the Bills were able to convert you could see linebacker Chad Greenway turned around trying to communicate with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. The ball was snapped while that was happening and Greenway ended up being out of position enough to contribute to the gain.

This year seems different, though. With a year under their belt in Zimmer’s defense, everyone understands his job better and seems more comfortable.

“Everybody is dialed in,” Munnerlyn said. “Everybody knows their job. Everybody is playing as one. They’re playing as one. We know we’ve got a job and that’s to win football games. Every position, from the defensive line to the linebackers to the secondary, we’re going out there and we’re competing. We’re not going to let it be us this year, so we’re just trying to go out there and stack these wins up.”

Zimmer also seems to have his own thoughts on what the difference was and that was just that the players made plays in this game. Coaches can scheme things up all they want, but at the end of the day it really just comes down to which team makes plays at critical moments of the game, and last Sunday that team was the Vikings.

“I thought Captain did a nice job,” Zimmer said. “They tried to throw the, really, double-move on Xavier twice late in that drive. It’s guys just doing what they’re supposed to do, really.”

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