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Vikings Defense Best in the NFL

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve known for a long time now that the Vikings defense was one of the best in the NFL. But after Sunday’s games, the Vikings defense is now officially the best in the NFL, yielding both the fewest points, and the fewest yards, of any defense in the league through 16 weeks. And with a less than fearsome Bears offense ahead next weekend, there is a reasonably good chance the Vikings could hold on to the #1 rankings to end the regular season.


That would be the first time, since becoming a defensive coordinator and now head coach, that Mike Zimmer could lay claim to having the best defense in the league in both key measures. The 2003 Cowboys were very close- ranking first in yards allowed and second in points allowed- but if the current #1 rankings hold, this Vikings defense would be the best that Mike Zimmer has coached in his long coaching career.

In addition to allowing the fewest yards (280.9) and points (16.1) per game, the Vikings defense is also easily the best in 3rd down conversions allowed, at only 26.32%, (2nd best is just over 31%) and 2nd in red zone TD conversion % at 42.11%. The Vikings allow the fewest touchdowns (1.5) on average per game of any defense as well, and by a significant margin- 2nd best allows 1.9 TDs per game on average.


Additionally, from an individual player perspective, the Vikings do not have any below average starters, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), based on their overall ratings through 16 weeks.

The average PFF grade for Vikings starters on defense is just over 83 (very good).

Harrison Smith earns the best grade at 98 (elite), followed by two near elites in Everson Griffen (89.8) and Linval Joseph (88.1). Trae Waynes is the only starter in the Vikings secondary not above 80 (good), but is getting there at 76.1. Only Waynes and Eric Kendricks are significantly below 80, with the rest of the starters near or above 80.

Those grades leave few match-up advantages for opposing offenses to exploit - there just aren’t any significant holes in the Vikings defense. None.


The interesting thing about this top defense, compared to others- like the Seahawks or Broncos in recent years, or the ‘85 Bears, or the Purple People Eaters, is the relative absence of big plays. It’s not like this Vikings defense doesn’t generate sacks or turnovers, but not nearly at the rate of these great defenses. But it does force a lot of punts. The most stifling aspect of this Vikings defense is not sacks or interceptions, but 3rd down conversions. At just over 26%, this Vikings defense is way better than even the best defenses of this century in getting off the field on third down.

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the year they won the Super Bowl, allowed a 34.1% conversion rate on 3rd down. The 2013 Seahawks, one of the most dominating this century, allowed a 35.2% conversion rate. And the 2015 Broncos allowed a 34.4% conversion rate on 3rd down.

All three of those teams won the Super Bowl.


There have been two other years that the Vikings defense finished the season ranked first in both points and yards allowed- 1969 and 1970. The 1969 team went to the Super Bowl, while the 1970 team lost in the divisional round.

It’s difficult to compare this year’s Vikings defense to those two years, in part because of the differences in era. Statistically those two early years of the Purple People Eaters were better than today’s, in both points allowed and yards allowed, but that was also a time of less prolific offenses. But in any case, this year’s defense certainly belongs in the conversation as one of the best in Vikings history.


Is This Vikings Defense....

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Just the best in league this year
    (1299 votes)
  • 38%
    The best Mike Zimmer defense ever
    (2497 votes)
  • 22%
    The best Vikings defense ever
    (1443 votes)
  • 18%
    The GOAT
    (1170 votes)
6409 votes total Vote Now