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Taking A Look At The Vikings Defensive Numbers

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Breaking down some defensive numbers and drives against the Vikes defense

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

We knew that when Mike Zimmer became the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, that the identity of this team was going to be the defense. Zimmer had built a stellar reputation over three decades as an NFL defensive coordinator, and let's face it, the Vikings needed an Extreme Makeover on that side of the ball.

But come on man...this defense just isn't fair. Let's take a look at some fun stats, shall we?

Minnesota leads the NFL with 15 sacks in three games. The team leader, Everson Griffen, has four. But the Vikings also have four sacks from backup defensive lineman Danielle Hunter (3) and Tom Johnson (1). Those four sacks are as much as or more than 12 entire teams in the NFL, to include Minnesota's next opponent, the New York Giants, who have four.

Their current turnover rate is plus 8. In three games, they've forced three turnovers against Tennessee, three against the Green Bay Packers, and three against the Carolina Panthers. According to Pro Football Reference, that equates to an opponent ending an offensive drive with a turnover 25% of the time. Conversely, PFR also tells us that an opponent ends an offensive drive with a score 20% of the time.

So in other words, opposing offenses have a better chance to turn the ball over against the Vikings than they do scoring. Of those scores, the Vikings have yielded five touchdowns, and only one field goal. So when they do score, it's probably going to be six points, but they're going to have to really earn it.

How so? Well, quite simply, it's difficult to move the ball down the field against this Minnesota defense. Let's take a look:

Beginning Drive Length in Yards to End Zone

Total Number of Drives

Turnovers Created

Safety By Defense

Touchdowns Allowed

Field Goals Allowed

Other (turnover on downs, half, punt)

80 or More

13

3

1

0

0

9

70-79

17

5

0

3

1

8

60-69

2

1

0

0

1

0

50-59

2

0

0

2

0

0

49 and below

1

1*

*Missed field goal

Let's do a little more diving into these numbers. Through three games, Minnesota opponents have started, on average, at their own 23 yard line, or 77 yards to go for a touchdown. Opponents have a better chanced to turn the ball over than they do at scoring, although that's the range where the Vikes have yielded 60% of their touchdowns. Still, that's only a 17% chance of scoring a touchdown when you start in that range, and that's pretty good. When you add in a turnover rate that's actually higher, 29.4%, what you're basically saying is this:

If you start your drive anywhere between your own 21 and 30 yard line, the chances of you turning the ball over versus scoring either a touchdown or field goal is just about doubled. That's flat out remarkable.

Let's look at long drives required to score a touchdown, 80 or more.  yardsThe Vikings have put their opponents on a long field 13 times this year, and have yet to yield any kind of score. Yet they have created three turnovers and one safety, or a rate of almost 31%. Basically, against the Vikings defense right now, you literally have no chance of scoring, even a field goal, yet almost one third of the time you will turn the ball over.

That's just flat out ridiculous.

Now, though, on the other end of the spectrum, the short field doesn't look all that great. Teams have had three drives where they started within 59 yards of the end zone so far, and they've scored two touchdowns, and missed a makeable field goal. So no, the Vikings defense isn't perfect, or indestructible.

It just feels that way.

But that, to me, reinforces how well the Vikings special teams and, to an extent, the offense has played. When forced to punt, Jeff Locke has consistently flipped field position for the Vikings, save for a blocked punt against Green Bay. And it also shows that the Vikings offense can at least turn non-scoring drives into a productive one. By that, I mean that if they start a drive fairly deep in their own end, they can produce a first down or two to at least get out of the shadow of their own goal line. I'd like to see every offensive drive result in a touchdown, don't get me wrong, but that's just not going to happen. So, in lieu of that, flipping the field position in favor of the Minnesota defense generally means one of two things:

1. The opponents aren't going to do much with the ball, and will have to punt. Usually deeper in their own end, which gives the Vikes offense favorable field position to start off with.

2. The Vikings defense will force a turnover, and put the offense on a short field.

Either outcome is a good one for Minnesota, and the Vikings currently sit 3-0. It's hard to think that things like a +8 turnover rate every three games will be hard to sustain through a full seasn, but the philosophy is sound: Create turnovers, limit mistakes, and make the opponent play a long field. If you do that, you're going to win a lot of football games.