Final Thoughts: 3rd down offense, red zone defense key for Vikings

There are a lot of ways to win a football game. An unstoppable rushing attack, a furious pass rush, a barrage of explosive offensive plays…alone or in concert, these and various other elements can lead to victory.

If the Vikings are able to come out on the right side of the most important statistical category tonight – points scored – it’s hard to envision the formula not including advantages in two key categories: 3rd down offense and red zone defense.

Extending drives will be important for the Vikings offense on two levels. First, it increases the chances of a score. And it’s likely to take several scores to top this high-flying New Orleans Saints offense. Secondly, a great way to slow down the scoring of the Saints offense is to limit their possessions. Extending drives and consuming the clock is a way the Vikings offense can play complementary football with the defense. The Vikings rank just No. 22 in the NFL in 3rd down offense, converting at a 37.6% clip, while the Saints defense hasn’t fared any better, ranking No. 24 in 3rd down defense (42.3%).

Red zone defense is always important in the game but could figure even more prominently than normal because of the injuries the Vikings defense is facing. Linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Andrew Sendejo are out and defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes are listed as questionable. These are important players to the defense and the absence of any combination of them could limit the normal capabilities and results of the unit. If so, perhaps the Saints are able to win on 3rd down a bit more than Vikings opponents have so far this season; the Vikings have the NFL’s top 3rd down defense (23.4%). In that case, the Saints may be able to push the ball into scoring range, but the “bend but don’t break” philosophy could be in play for the Vikings defense at that point. The Vikings have surrendered touchdowns on only nine of 27 (33.3%) opponent drives into the red zone. If that’s the rate the Vikings are at tonight against New Orleans, it could be considered a win for the defense.

Mailbag

When you’re on the road, it’s hard to put the game away in the 4th quarter. But when the other team is looking like they are going to get back in it, the Vikings come up with something that puts the opponent back on ice. A long drive for a touchdown, a couple of great runs, recovering a fumble or getting an interception. Is it because this team has a lot of heart, great coaching, guys just stepping up or just plain luck? -- Curt Fahsholz

Valsdosta, GA

An impressive part of each of the Vikings last two road wins had to do with what Curt is referencing – fighting back after taking a punch from the opponent in the 4th quarter. In Philadelphia, it was an 11-play, 55-yard field goal drive that made it a two-score game. In New York, it was a Holton Hill interception in the 4th quarter after the Jets had pulled to within 10; then the offense scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to all but seal the win. I’d point to a combination of good coaching and competitive integrity by the players. Head coach Mike Zimmer talks frequently about wanting tough-minded players and it’s common for him to complement his team’s fight after games. The Vikings have outscored opponents 100-70 in the second half of games this season, and that is a result of Zimmer preaching the importance of being tough-minded and finishing games and then of the players doing what it takes late in games to get the job done.

Quotable

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked what the signature was of a Sean Payton offense. Zimmer didn’t mince words.

“Indiscriminant,” he said.

Push to elaborate, Zimmer expanded.

“Call anything at any time,” Zimmer said. “Call anything. Second and one, he might be in no backs. Play action shots on first and possession, it doesn’t matter. Formations, movements, personnel groupings, he doesn’t care. I don’t think he cares about down and distance.”

Zimmer and Payton were on the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff together from 2003-05.

Stat of the Week

3,065 – Number of receiving yards for Adam Thielen since the start of 2016, trailing only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown

Thielen leads the NFL in receptions (67) and receiving yards (822), but the stat included above illustrates that Thielen is not just on a one-season tear. He’s been one of the best, if not the best, receiver in the NFL for a couple seasons, at least.

Stat of the Week II

The Vikings have beaten the Saints twice at U.S. Bank Stadium and can beat them for a third time tonight, yet they’ve not been able to defeat the Detroit Lions one time yet in their new home. The Lions are next week’s opponent, so the Vikings don’t have to wait much longer to cross this item off their to-do list.

Broadcast Information

National TV: NBC

Play-by-Play: Al Michaels

Analyst: Cris Collinsworth

Sideline: Michele Tafoya

National Radio: Westwood One Sports

Play-by-Play: Tom McCarthy

Analyst: Jason Taylor

Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130

Play-by-Play: Paul Allen

Analyst: Pete Bercich

Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber

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