The Minnesota Vikings defense is being hailed as one of the best in the NFL.
There’s good reason for that.
The Vikings rank in the top 10 in nearly every defensive statistic – total yards, yards per play (where they are first), rushing yards per game, rushing average, Passing yards per game, interception percentage, sacks per pass play (first) – except for first downs allowed per game and third-down efficiency.
However, while the Vikings have gotten off to a quick 3-0 start to the season, the defense hasn’t gotten off to good starts in their games and defensive players are struggling for an explanation.
“I can’t put my finger on it right now, but that’s weird to me that all of the sudden, especially in the second half, we can just go out there and just hit the stop button. It’s like, no more!” CB Captain Munnerlyn said. “We’re just going to try to fix that this week. That’s one of our goals this week is to start fast. We haven’t been starting fast. We’ve been finishing stronger but we haven’t been starting fast. Let’s start fast and finish stronger. … We need to.”
The Vikings have certainly lived up to the “no more” mantra at later points in the first half and through the second half of their first three games. But against the Tennessee Titans they fell behind 10-0 before mounting a comeback with 25 unanswered points in a 25-16 win. In Week 2 they fell behind 7-0 to the Green Bay Packers before scoring 17 unanswered points in a 17-14 win. Last Sunday, it was another 10-0 deficit before scoring 22 unanswered points in a 22-10 win.
“We’ve got to be better prepared, we’ve got to be better disciplined, eliminate the penalties and the mental errors and be ready to go out there and execute,” DE Everson Griffen said.
“We’ve just got to go out there and start fast, get them on the ground. When they have quick passes, be in the throwing lanes and just doing all the right things.”
There is little doubt that one of the hallmarks of a Mike Zimmer-led defense is the ability to adjust, regroup and, as he says, have a lot of fight in them.
“Every intention is to go out and start fast. In the first 15 (minutes), a lot of the times you’re adjusting to some of the things that you see,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “That’s an emphasis, to start fast and finish strong. So, we’re aware that we have to start out fast and not let them get a lead. But, to finish strong, be able to adjust to it and be able to finish strong.”
Through three games, the Vikings have been outscored 20-2 in the first quarter – with the two points being generated on Sunday with a sack of Cam Newton in the end zone – but they have outscored their opponents 27-0 in the third quarter.
“It seems like early in games, we played Tennessee and they jumped out on us and I want to say it was 10-0. Then you play Carolina and they jump out on us. Green Bay, everybody is jumping out on us and it’s like, ‘OK, guys, let’s settle down,’” Munnerlyn said. “We do a good job of settling down and going out there and playing football. Hopefully this week we get it started right away. Instead of giving up points right away, let’s dominate from start to finish.”
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To date, they have dominated from the start of the second quarter to the finish, outscoring their opponents 62-20 in the final 45 minutes of games. But eventually their tendency to fall behind early could come back to bite them.
“We don’t have much wiggle room. We’re fighting our rear ends off every week in every phase offense, defense and special teams,” Zimmer said. “We’re just trying to find ways to win, however we can win games. I keep saying this team is pretty resilient about that and understanding what we try to do each week.”