Monday, 1 January 2018

Will NFL's best defense carry Vikings to Super Bowl?

Will NFL's best defense carry Vikings to Super Bowl? 
Vikings defense might be best unit in NFL

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' defense capped off a dominant 2017 campaign by clamping down on the Chicago Bears while etching its name in NFL history.

Minnesota ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in both total defense (275.9 yards) and scoring defense (15.8), a mark the franchise last achieved in 1969 and 1970.

carry Vikings to Super Bowl

“It’s a heck of an achievement for our guys,” coach Mike Zimmer said of the Vikings' league-best scoring defense. “You can’t do that if your offense isn’t running the football and controlling the ball. You can’t do that if your defense is out there all the time. It’s a nice stat for the defense and these guys take a lot of pride in it.”

Entering Week 17 with the lowest third-down conversion rate (26.3 percent) allowed in 15 seasons, Minnesota set the all-time record for defensive efficiency on third down at 25.2 percent on Sunday. Chicago converted just one time on 12 attempts, an area that the Vikings have focused on for months.

“Absolutely, it’s huge,” Brian Robison said. “A big point of emphasis for us back in OTAs was being a lot better on first down, being better in critical situations -- third down being one of those -- and that’s why we’re here today.”

Vikings defense

For a third straight week, Minnesota held its opponent under 10 points. Chicago’s only touchdown came off a trick punt return in the first half.

Jordan Howard was one of the few running backs who had consistent success against the Vikings' defense, averaging 5.3 yards per rush in his previous three outings against Minnesota.
The Vikings have boasted some of the league’s top defensive units over the years, but it’s been decades since they achieved this level of prestige. With Carl Eller -- one of the most storied defenders in Minnesota history -- in attendance, the current Vikings defense put on a performance that would make the Purple People Eaters proud.

2017 NFL Playoffs

• Schedule, coverage »
• Primer: Bracket, Super Bowl paths

Chicago didn’t cross midfield for the first time until the fourth quarter. Even when the Bears showed fight, it wasn’t nearly enough to match the Vikings' strength across the board.

Due to the oddities of NFL scheduling, the Vikings have only two home games over the next two months, facing the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 19 and Cincinnati on Dec. 17. That made Sunday’s 24-16 victory over Baltimore, one that seemed never in doubt, very necessary.

The Vikings fly to London on Wednesday to face 0-7 Cleveland on Sunday knowing they have a one-game lead in the NFC North at 5-2.

The hobbled Green Bay Packers look less and less like a contender without injured Aaron Rodgers, falling to 4-3 on Sunday with a home loss to New Orleans. The Detroit Lions are 3-3 and had a bye. And while the Chicago Bears have won two in a row to move to 3-4, the Vikings already have won at Soldier Field and will face them again at home in the season finale.

Sunday’s game was all about taking care of business against a struggling Ravens squad that lost its best receiver in Mike Wallace in the first quarter and had little offense to speak of against this unstoppable defense.

There might not be a better unit on either side of the ball in the NFL than the Vikings defense. It finished with five sacks, two by Everson Griffen and one apiece by Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter and Tom Johnson, and had 11 tackles for loss.

On Sunday, Howard was limited to 9 yards on nine carries, his longest run of the day topping out at 4 yards. After registering minus-1 yard rushing at halftime, the Bears finished with 30 yards on the ground.
“Our defensive guys are playing well,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I thought Anthony Barr played well today. All of our defensive line. Linval Joseph looked like he had a good game. When we stop the run, we’re pretty good on third-down situations and we had them in quite a few today. We can rush the quarterback pretty good.”

The Vikings had 357 yards of offense to the Ravens’ 208, despite both teams running 64 plays.

Zimmer did say he was upset early when the offense didn’t finish drives, and he acknowledged how huge Kai Forbath was, going 6-for-6 on field goals.

“We had great field position,” Zimmer said. “I thought our special teams did great. The first series of the game, we’re on the 40-yard line or something and we throw an interception the first play of the game. Then we end up stalling. But that’s a good defensive football team we played. They’re very physical, they’re good in the secondary. I knew it was going to be a grind today.”

“You know how it is, you can kill a team statistically and still lose a game,” Zimmer said. “We have to keep playing hard and playing smart and trying to figure out ways to win games. Offensively we’ve had a lot of backups playing in there, we have all year. It’s good that they seem to be effective.”


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