The Vikings defense continued to improve in 2016, rising to third in league rankings in yards allowed per game (314.9).
Minnesota also became one of three NFL teams to rank in the top six in scoring defense in each of the past two seasons, joining Denver and Seattle. The Vikings allowed 19.2 points per game in 2016.
A combination of an opportunistic defense and offense that protected the ball helped the Vikings tie for fourth in the NFL in takeaway/giveaway differential (plus 11).
These continual improvements since Head Coach Mike Zimmer's arrival in 2014 can be attributed to players reaching their potential and making teammates better for the overall benefit of the scheme.
The Vikings had five defensive players — Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes — selected to the Pro Bowl, which tied for second-highest total from an offense or defense in the NFL.
Here are five reasons why the defense was so effective in 2016:
- Danielle Hunter's 12.5 sacks in 2016 pushed his two-year total to 18.5, which is the second-most for any second-year player behind Atlanta's Vic Beasley (19.5).
- Griffen (8.0) and Brian Robison (7.5), along with Hunter, made the Vikings the only team in the NFL to have three players with 7.0 or more sacks in 2016 and helped the defensive line total 34 sacks, which ranked second in the NFL behind 36 by Carolina.
- Joseph became the fifth Vikings defensive tackle to record at least 100 tackles (coaches' tally) and 4.0 sacks in a season.
- Linebacker Eric Kendricks became the second Vikings player, joining cornerback Antoine Winfield, as the only players to record at least 10 tackles for loss and 10 passes defended in a season. Kendricks had 10 tackles for loss and 11 passes defended, along with a 77-yard interception return for a touchdown and a team-best 126 tackles (coaches' tally) in 2016.
- Rhodes posted a career-best five interceptions, including a 100-yard interception for a touchdown against Arizona, and helped Minnesota rank third in passing yards allowed per game (207.9).
There are also areas where the Vikings can improve. Here are two:
- Rushing yards allowed per game — The Vikings ranked 20th in the category last season, allowing 106.9 yards per game to opponents.
- Goal-to- go percentage of opponents — Minnesota was last in the league in this stat category, with opponents capitalizing on a goal-to-go situation 90.9 percent of the time. Of the 32 touchdowns allowed by Minnesota, 21 were from 10 or fewer yards out.