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Lunchbreak: Vikings Run Defense Looks for Repeat Performance

Through 10 games, the Vikings defense ranks seventh in the NFL against the run by allowing just 91.2 yards per game.

And it’s safe to say that unit is coming off its best performance of the 2019 season.

Minnesota shut down Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday night, as the Cowboys running back had just 47 yards on 20 carries.

Mark Craig of the Star Tribune took a deep dive into how the Vikings were able to limit Elliott’s big-play ability, and looked ahead to how that could translate to Sunday’s game.

Craig wrote:

In Sunday night’s 28-24 home loss to the Vikings, Dallas’ two-time rushing champion and 2016 All-Pro first-teamer ran the ball 20 times with not a single first down, no run longer than 6 yards and a 2.35 average per carry that marked a career low in 33 regular-season games with at least 20 carries.

Elliott’s 19th and 20th runs were particularly frustrating for Cowboys Nation. After passing their way to the Vikings’ 11-yard line with a four-point deficit and less than two minutes to go, the Cowboys ran Elliott for no gain on second- and-2, then a 3-yard loss on third-and-2.

The Vikings stout performance was without defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who missed the game with a knee injury.

Minnesota will now look for a repeat performance against Denver, which ranks 16th in the NFL with 111.9 rushing yards per game.

Phillip Lindsay leads Denver with 584 yards and five touchdowns on 118 carries. Royce Freeman has 374 rushing yards and a pair of scores on 93 attempts.

Craig wrote that Minnesota’s effort on defense didn’t go unnoticed against the Cowboys, and will also be needed Sunday against the Broncos.

[The performance was] nothing fancy, schematically. Just a lot of hustle by a swarming set of front-seven players stepping up for their fallen nose tackle.

The Vikings had eight defenders in the box for only two of Elliott’s carries and none after his third carry. They had seven defenders in the box eight times and only six in the box 10 times.

Twelve defenders were credited with at least half a tackle on Elliott’s 20 running plays. Only twice was a player outside the front seven involved in the stop. Safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes each had half a tackle on an Elliott run.

“I think our front seven did an amazing job,” [said Vikings Head Coach Mike] Zimmer. “They all played really well, honestly.”

The Vikings have allowed 100-plus rushing yards to opposing teams in just three of their 10 games, and Minnesota has also allowed just a pair of individual 100-yard rushers this season.

Lindsay has recorded one 100-yard rushing performance so far in 2019.

CBS Sports projects Vikings as Wild Card playoff team

There are still seven weeks — and six Vikings games — left in the 2019 regular season.

And while Minnesota still has plenty of work to do, the Vikings have set themselves up for a possible playoff berth with a 7-3 record up to this point.

John Breech of CBS Sports took a peek into his crystal ball to project the 2019 playoff teams, and has the Vikings getting into the dance as a Wild Card team as the No. 6 seed.

Breech wrote:

Last week, the race for the final seed in the NFC looked like it was going to turn into total chaos over the final few weeks of the season, but now, the computer seems to have everything figured out. According to SportsLine, the Vikings have an 84.3% chance of getting into the playoffs, which is more than 35% higher than the next closest team in the race (Cowboys). The problem for the Cowboys is that the Vikings now have the head-to-head tiebreaker over them, which means winning the NFC East is likely going to be their only route to the postseason this year.

The Vikings playoff chances took a step forward with Sunday’s win in Dallas. While Minnesota would be the No. 6 seed if the playoffs started today, they also have the head-to-head-tiebreaker over Dallas and Philadelphia, who are both 5-4.

Breech projected the 49ers to have the NFC’s top seed, while the Saints also earned a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed.

He predicts the Packers will win the NFC North and have the third seed and projects that Philadelphia will win the NFC East and be the No. 4 seed. Seattle will be the fifth seed as a Wild Card team, followed by the Vikings, according to Breech.

In Breech’s scenario, the Vikings would play at the Packers in the Wild-Card round, while the Eagles would host the Seahawks.

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