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Lunchbreak: The Athletic Predicts Vikings Defense 'Primed for a Bounce-Back'

The Vikings defense looks a whole lot different than the unit that greatly struggled in 2020.

Minnesota has bolstered its group by adding players through free agency – including Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson – and bringing back defenders who previously played for the Vikings. Most recently, Everson Griffen re-joined the team for his 11th NFL season in Purple.

In a recent article by The Athletic, Sheil Kapadia unrolled "25 NFL nuggets you need to know" entering the 2021 season. Kapadia wrote:

When training camps kicked off, we published the 2021 NFL Playbook, a 197-page guide to the upcoming season. The guide includes analytics, Xs and Os, predictions and individual chapters dedicated to each team.

Below is an updated CliffsNotes version with the 25 most interesting things I unearthed while doing the research.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Sept. 13, 2021.

Among Kapadia's takeaways, he spotlighted the Vikings and said Minnesota's defense is "primed for a bounce-back."

They ranked 18thin defensive efficiency last year, which is mediocre, not terrible. According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings had the third-most injured defense and the most-injured defensive line. They didn't get a single snap from Danielle Hunter or Michael Pierce. Both players are back, and Minnesota added Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson. From 2017 to 2019, the Vikings finished first, third and fourth in defensive efficiency. Do the Vikings have questions in their secondary? Absolutely. But [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer is one of the NFL's smartest defensive coaches and can find ways to play to Minnesota's strengths and mask its weaknesses.

The other takeaway we'll highlight here revolves around Minnesota's Week 1 opponent.

Kapadia opined that the Bengals "need to do a better job of scheming up easy throws" for second-year quarterback Joe Burrow.

According to Next Gen Stats, the types of throws that Burrow attempted as a rookie were among the most difficult of any starter. There are two specific metrics we can look at. One is tight-window throws. These are defined by throws in which a defender is within 1 yard of the receiver. Burrow attempted tight-window throws on 21.5 percent of his passes, which was the third-highest rate among starters. The second metric is expected completion percentage. This looks at the likelihood of a completion on every pass, based on factors including distance, receiver separation, pressure, etc. Burrow's expected completion percentage was 61.7 percent, which ranked 37thout of 41 starters. The Bengals used the fifth pick on wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, and they already have Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The coaching staff needs to show it can scheme things up and make life easier for Burrow.

Preseason 2 takeaways focus on Vikings offense

Under the new NFL scheduling format, the Vikings have two preseason games in the rear-view mirror and just one remaining before Minnesota's regular season kicks off Sept. 12.

ESPN's beat reporters offered observations on their respective teams' second preseason contests. After a 12-10 loss to the Colts Saturday night, Courtney Cronin honed in on the Vikings offense. She wrote:

The Vikings offense hasn't scored a touchdown in eight quarters of preseason action. Kirk Cousins went 5-for-7 for 23 yards in three series that featured checkdowns, running back screens and a handful of passes to backup tight end Brandon Dillon. It wasn't until the two-minute drive in the first half that Jake Browning … connected with a wide receiver. Browning struggled and was replaced in the second half by [Kellen] Mond, whose night was also forgettable.

Beyond this preseason loss to Indianapolis, which could be Cousins' only action before Week 1, the offense has had a rough go in recent weeks. Cousins didn't look like he saw the field very clearly and has been up and down throughout practices.

While it remains to be seen which quarterbacks will play against the Chiefs Friday night, it's clear the Vikings need to see more in their passing game.

"I'd like to see touchdowns to be honest with you," Zimmer told media members earlier this week. "I think we need to have some success. I think they're confident, but you know, confidence comes when you play well and you show it. I really don't want to go into the first ball game and we haven't looked crisp or sharp.

"We really didn't get the ball down the field in the passing game at all. We ran the ball pretty good," Zimmer added. "We didn't get the ball down the field vertically hardly any. If you're going to throw 5-yard checkdowns all day long, it takes 20 of them, so. We'd like to get the ball down the field a little bit more."

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