Lunchbreak: Vikings Defense Clamping Down on 3rd Downs

The Vikings got off to a little bit of a rough start defensively this season, but the unit seems to be right back on track.

Over the past three games against the Eagles, Cardinals and Jets, Minnesota has allowed its opponents to convert just four of 32 third-down attempts. Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune recently took a look at the Vikings defense and said it’s “working its way back to last season’s standout form.” Goessling wrote:

Last season, the Vikings allowed opponents to convert only 25.2 percent of their third downs — the lowest rate since the league started tracking the statistic in 1991.

[…]

[Whatever] concerns there were about the Vikings struggles on third downs early this season are long gone.

According to Goessling, the Vikings started the season by allowing teams to convert 35.5 percent of their third-down attempts but are now “ahead of last year’s pace” and have dropped the season-long rate to 23.4 for the season.

Goessling quoted Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who told Twin Cities media members on Monday that he would like to see the team do better on first and second downs but acknowledged the success on third.

“We work real hard at third downs,” Zimmer said. “We’ve been working real hard on first and second downs the last few weeks. Guys are executing. We change up some calls here and there every week and try to figure out what is the best way to stop them, and guys have executed.”

Goessling wrote:

Though things will get tougher with Drew Brees coming to town on Sunday night, in one sense, the Vikings are back to their old selves. Once again, they’re asserting themselves as the league’s best at ending drives.

Al Michaels: Minnesota has ‘Connection’ with miracle plays

Legendary broadcaster Al Michaels has seen a lot over his decades of U.S. sports coverage.

But even he was taken aback by the Minneapolis Miracle play that lifted the Vikings over the Saints in the Divisional Round of the playoffs in January.

As the two teams prepare to face off back at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday, Michaels spoke to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press and reflected on watching the last-second touchdown that will forever live in Vikings lore. Tomasson wrote:

The Vikings beat the Saints 29-24 at U.S. Bank Stadium in January on Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard reception from Case Keenum on the final play. FOX broadcast the game, but Michaels was watching intently since he would be handling the Super Bowl three weeks later at U.S. Bank Stadium along with analyst Cris Collinsworth.

“I was like everybody else in the country,” Michaels told Tomasson via a phone interview. “We don’t have a rooting interest, but I went, ‘Oh, my [gosh].’ ”

Michaels also called the “Miracle on Ice” game during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, when the U.S. Men’s Hockey team defeated the Soviet Union, a four-time defending gold medalist.

“Minnesota has a big connection, too, with [the Miracle on Ice],” Michaels told Tomasson. “That team had [Head Coach] Herb Brooks from the University of Minnesota, and so many guys from the team (11 of 20) played at Minnesota colleges. There must be something in those 10,000 lakes up there.”

Michaels said he was “thrilled” to get this weekend’s Vikings-Saints game for Sunday Night Football.

“The second the game ended last January, we were set on trying to get this game, so we’re thrilled,” Michaels said. “It’s a great matchup. Obviously, we have a fantastic storyline going in, and the teams are hot.”

View exclusive black-and-white images from the Vikings 37-17 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

Waynes, Hill land in PFF’s top-5 for passer rating in coverage

According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, a pair of Vikings cornerbacks stood out against the Jets Sunday.

PFF posted a graphic on Twitter Wednesday that showed Trae Waynes allowed an incredible passer rating of – get this – 0.0 when targeted. Waynes topped the Week 7 list, coming ahead of Arizona’s Patrick Peterson (2.8) and Denver’s Bradley Roby (10.7).

Coming in at No. 4 on the list was Vikings rookie corner Holton Hill, who snagged his first career pick on Sunday when he stepped in for an injured Xavier Rhodes. Hill allowed a passer rating of 24.0 when in coverage.

Rams CB Troy Hill rounded out the rankings at 24.3.

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