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Lunchbreak: Vikings Defense & Run Game Improving Strides 

EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings blitz hitting home under Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores and the combined punch of Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers in Akers' debut were among Star Tribune writer Mark Craig's five takeaways following the Vikings 21-13 victory at Carolina on Sunday.

Craig wrote about how the Vikings blitzing defense was effective against rookie quarterback Bryce Young.

Marcus Davenport's first sack as a Viking was one of many examples of Young being as overwhelmed by Brian Flores' blitz-happy defense as Justin Herbert was unfazed by it a week earlier. With the Panthers in field goal range and facing third-and-8 early in the fourth quarter, Flores showed pressure, rushed four and used Jordan Hicks to spy on Young. Young panicked, hesitated and, well, bye-bye field goal.

Craig's other points included asking for more Akers and noting how well Vikings fans traveled to Carolina.

Take a bow, Vikings fans. None of Carolina's six penalties for 80 yards hurt more than receiver Terrace Marshall, Jr.'s, false start on third-and-goal at the 3 in the first quarter. The Panthers had nine false starts at Seattle, but this never should have been a problem at home. Then again, Vikings fans are a large and very noisy bunch on the road. Kevin O'Connell owes y'all a shoutout for helping the Panthers settle for a field goal after that false start. Another killer flag: tackle Ikem Ekwonu's illegal man downfield penalty negating a 13-yard completion down to the Vikings 8. Two plays later, Harrison Smith's strip sack led to D.J. Wonnum's game-changing 51-yard touchdown return for a 14-13 lead.

More Cam, please. How's this for a healthy one-two backfield punch in Akers' first game as a Viking? Of the Vikings 14 first-down runs for 104 yards (7.4 yards per carry), Mattison carried 10 times for 71 yards and a 7.1-yard average while Akers carried four times for 33 yards and an 8.25-yard average. Akers is a smoother runner, and Mattison runs harder when he's fresher and fighting for his carries. The Vikings had six first-down runs of 9 or more yards. Mattison had first-down runs of 17, 13 and 12 yards. Akers didn't have a first-down carry under 7 yards. His second 9-yard first-down run set up a Jefferson 30-yard touchdown pass off play action on second-and-1.

Click here to read all of Craig's points.

The Athletic examines how dangerous the Vikings are

Athletic writer Alec Lewis wrote about "Why the Vikings might actually be a more dangerous team than you’d think." The article unpacks the team's season thus far.

Lewis made the case for why Minnesota (1-3) could be a better version of last year's team that started 8-1.

The glass-half-full view goes something like this: The Vikings are an improved version of their 2022 team that encountered a historic early season run of misfortune that clouded what they could ultimately accomplish.

If this sounds like the inverse of last season, that's because it is. Last year, analysts used objective data to show why the Vikings would regress to the mean. This year, the same objective data suggests a progression to the mean could be on the horizon.

Lewis pointed out that the Vikings 11 turnovers (four interceptions and seven lost fumbles) have the Vikings at 31st in turnover margin (minus-8), which is only better than the Las Vegas Raiders.

Those statistics paint a dark picture, but they don't do justice to just how much the Vikings turnovers have affected their chances of winning.

The Vikings have turned the ball over seven times in their opponent's territory. And as if that's not bad enough, six of those turnovers occurred inside the opponent's 30-yard line. For reference, no other team this year has turned the ball over more than three times inside the opponent's 30. Since 2000, only one team (the 2007 Detroit Lions) turned the ball over more times inside the opponent's 30-yard line through its first four games of the season.

Lewis noted an uptick in rushing yards per carry over the past two weeks but also mentioned the conversion rate on third downs has room for improvement.

It's also fair to wonder whether this level of efficiency is just the tip of the iceberg. Two weeks ago, after having emphasized an improved rushing attack throughout the offseason, the Vikings staff showed the offensive linemen the team's running metrics. At the time, Minnesota ranked 30th in yards per rush.

After averaging 2.4 yards per carry in Week 1 and 3.1 in Week 2, the Vikings boosted their efforts to 5.4 in Week 3 and 5.9 on Sunday.

The Vikings ground game has been markedly better in the last two weeks, partially because the Los Angeles Chargers and Panthers have deployed what O'Connell calls "the Justin Jefferson plan," meaning a two-high safety structure with a light box. Still, proving that the Vikings can run effectively should help moving forward, especially if they can convert a larger chunk of third downs (their rate of 37.0 percent is 21stin the league).