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NOTEBOOK: Vikings 3rd-Quarter Defense Ranks Among NFL’s Best Units

EAGAN, Minn. — No, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is not giving any rousing halftime speeches to fire his players up.

But as the NFL season creeps into the final month, Zimmer’s defense has made their mark as one of the best teams in terms of fewest points allowed in the third quarter.

Minnesota ranks sixth among all teams with 39 total points given up in 11 games. Seattle tops the list with 23 third-quarter points allowed, followed by Buffalo (30), Chicago and Green Bay (34) and Baltimore (36).

“There’s no rah-rah speeches,” said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. “We just plan on going out and have everyone take care of their job.”

The Vikings allowed 23 third-quarter points in the first four games of the season. But Minnesota’s defense has been extra stingy over the past seven games, giving up just nine points in the third quarter during that span.

New Orleans scored on a pick-six in Week 8, so those points aren’t held against the defense. That means the last third-quarter touchdown the Vikings defense allowed was in Week 4 against the Rams.

The Vikings have posted third-quarter shutouts in four of those seven games and allowed just a field goals in two other games.

Zimmer and his players said constant adjustments have played a key role in helping the Vikings win the third quarter.

“We’ve done a good job after halftime,” Zimmer said. “But honestly we’re making adjusting all the time, throughout the whole course of the game.”

Linebacker Eric Kendricks cited the team’s strong communication.

“We have a really smart defense, so everybody knows what’s happening and how they’re trying to attack us,” Kendricks said. “We communicate it and make those adjustments.”

But there is also an emotional boost that certainly comes along with having success in the stanza after halftime.

If we look at the past seven games as a sample size, the Vikings have lead at the break four times, have trailed twice and were tied once. Minnesota has won five of those seven games.

Minnesota led against the Eagles, Cardinals, Jets and Lions and promptly surrendered just six total points in the third quarter in those games.

Smith and Kendricks noted the importance of swinging the pendulum in Minnesota’s favor after halftime.

“It’s probably mostly a mentality,” Smith said. “Coming out of the half, it’s not starting over but it’s kind of like starting that process again. You want to come out and get the momentum.

“Just being able to get a stop, or our offense going down and scoring and us getting a stop, that’s big,” Smith said. “If you can get up on teams, and get up a couple scores, that changes the dynamic of the ballgame.”

Added Kendricks: “It’s huge. We make adjustments, but we have to come out with that fire.”

Perhaps the Vikings most important third-quarter performance was their most recent one, and the only one where Minnesota was tied at halftime.

The Vikings and Packers were knotted at 14 at the break before Minnesota outscored its biggest rival 10-0 in the third quarter in an eventual 24-17 Border Battle win.

Overall, the Vikings allow 22.4 points per game, which ranks 10th in the NFL.

Zimmer may not be giving those fiery halftime speeches, but he’s also not yet satisfied with his defense’s performance.

“I’d like to lead the league in every quarter if we could,” Zimmer quipped.

Rhodes’ status up in the air for Sunday

Xavier Rhodes practiced in a limited capacity on Friday and is questionable for Sunday’s game against New England.

The Vikings cornerback spoke to the media in the locker room after practice and said his status is up in the air.

“I’ll have to see on Sunday,” Rhodes said. “I was out there for a couple of plays. I didn’t try to overdo it. I had enough to give me some confidence about Sunday.”

The All-Pro cornerback injured his hamstring in Sunday’s win over the Packers. He said he will continue to treat the injury in the coming days.

“Just keep working on it, keep going to rehab and strengthening it,” Rhodes said. “Hopefully on Sunday, when it’s time to see if you can go, I’ll be good.”

Defending the red zone

The Vikings defense leads the league on third down as opponents have converted just 27.6 percent of tries to move the chains.

This comes as no surprise, as Minnesota set an NFL record in 2017 with a third-down percentage of 25.2.

Yet the Vikings are quite stout inside the red zone as well, as Minnesota ranks first by giving up a touchdown just 43.2 percent of the time its opponent gets inside the 20-yard line.

The Vikings defense has faced 37 possessions in the red zone and have allowed 16 touchdowns and 16 field goals.

Zimmer explained the Vikings thought process when their backs are against the end zone.

“I guess we have a lot of certain principles when we get down in the red zone,” Zimmer said. “So that’s part of it, and then each week we might change some of the things and how we’re playing things … based on the teams and routes and formations.

“But more importantly, it’s knowing where the goal line is, playing underneath receivers in the end zone, tightening the coverage up, not allowing them to run the football, because if they can run the football, it makes it really difficult,” Zimmer added. “We change up some techniques and when space gets condensed, it’s a little harder to try to throw the football. We try to take advantage of that.”

New England’s offense ranks 13th in the league by scoring touchdowns on 24 of 38 possessions.

The Patriots have also kicked 12 field goals in the red zone, meaning they have scored on 36 of those 38 possessions. New England’s total scoring percentage of 94.7 (getting points of 36 of 38 red-zone tries) ranks third in the NFL.

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