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Lunchbreak: Vikings D-Line Played Key Role in Success of 2017 Season

The Vikings produced the best defense in the league — and one of the best in franchise history. Minnesota ranked first in points allowed (15.8), the first time it had done so since 1970. The Vikings also allowed the fewest yards per game (275.9), the team's best mark since 1993.

If that wasn't enough, Minnesota also had the best third-down defense in NFL history (the stat started being tracked in 1991). The Vikings allowed just 51 conversions on 202 attempts (25.2 percent).

Minnesota's defensive line played a key role in that success, and Matthew Coller of recently highlighted that unit while looking back at the 2017 season.

Coller wrote:

The Minnesota Vikings defensive line was the driving force of the NFL's No. 1 defense. They may not have ranked at the top of the league in sacks (17th) but the Vikings created pressure at the same rate (on 32.2 percent of snaps) as the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles, according to Football Outsiders. Against the run, the Vikings finished fifth in yards per attempt allowed (3.7).

Coller noted that the line was led by defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, both of whom were named to the Pro Bowl.

At 30 years old, Everson Griffen had the best year of his career. The Vikings top pass rusher finished the season with 13.0 sacks (fourth) and 41 pass pressures (13th). He opened the season at a torrid pace, picking up at least one sack in each one of his first eight games. But the second half of the season was less fruitful. Griffen only totaled 3.0 sacks over the final seven weeks of the season. The drop in production was likely a combination of teams ramping up their game plans to slow him down and a foot injury that the veteran defensive end suffered against the Cleveland Browns. Even with a dip in the second half, Griffen still ranked as PFF's 11th best DE (of 106).

Griffen was named a second-team All-Pro for his play this past season.

Coller noted that Joseph's ability to play both the run and the pass helps make him one of the league's top players at his position.

Linval Joseph also finished 11th at his position by PFF standards, but most of the top defensive tackles play the three-technique spot. Among nose tackles, only Damon Harrison and DeForest Buckner rated higher. Joseph was the Vikings most important player in shutting down opponents' rushing attacks, especially in key situations. The Vikings ranked fifth in the NFL at stopping third or fourth and short rushes – many of which came at Joseph. Minnesota's massive defensive tackle might be known more for eating up blockers than getting after the passer, but he ranked as the 16th best defensive tackle against the pass.



Cronin: Vikings should contend again in 2018

The 2017 NFL season has been over for less than a week, as teams and players are now turning their attention ahead to 2018.

ESPN reporter Courtney Cronin recently wrote that while Minnesota will need to figure out its quarterback situation this offseason, the Vikings should still be in the hunt for a deep playoff run next season.

Cronin wrote:

The Vikings improbable run ended one game shy of their ultimate goal, but Vegas expects Minnesota to have another great season in 2018 with the fourth-best odds to win Super Bowl LIII, which is tied with NFC North rival Green Bay. With a healthy Aaron Rodgers *and the franchise heading in a new direction after firing both coordinators and its general manager, the Packers have every chance to reload this offseason, recover from an injury-ridden 2017, and make the Vikings quest for back-to-back division titles a brutal test. Outside of current Super Bowl champion Philadelphia (6-1), Minnesota and Green Bay have the second-highest odds of any NFC team to win the big game.*

Cronin noted that the Vikings will faced a tougher schedule than what they saw in 2017. Minnesota will face both Super Bowl teams on the road. 

With the majority of its key pieces in place across the board on both sides of the ball, including the return of running back Dalvin Cook, Minnesota isn't expected to experience too much of a drop-off in 2018, but its schedule doesn't offer any favors. The Vikings could very easily open the season at Philadelphia, where they lost the NFC title game, and will also play the Rams, Seahawks and Patriots on the road. Minnesota is fortunate to enter 2018 coming off a season where it boasted the league's No. 1 defense, but the path towards duplicating the success it had in 2017 will only become more difficult.

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