EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings have talent at each level of a defense that currently ranks fourth in yards allowed with 314.3.
Minnesota also ranks 12th with 22.0 points allowed per game, but that number is inflated a bit because opposing defenses have scored five times after turnovers and a blocked punt was recovered for a touchdown in Week 2.
Of the 11 starters on defense, seven have earned Pro Bowl nods in their career — Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Sheldon Richardson, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes.
But a team needs contributions from everyone throughout the season, not just big-name stars.
So while Smith, Barr and Hunter were recognized for 2018 Pro Bowl nods Tuesday night, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer noted on Wednesday how much he’s appreciated Minnesota’s defensive depth.
“I mean, it was difficult losing Mike Hughes because he would have been one of those guys somewhere in that rotation quite a bit,” Zimmer said. “But Holton [Hill] has come in and done a nice job. I think Anthony Harris has come in and proven that he can play in this league.
“I am trying to think of who else is in there. [Stephen] Weatherly has taken a really nice jump this year. A lot of times for defensive linemen, for some reason, it takes like the third year before they kind of see the light. He’s done a good job,” Zimmer added. “Jaleel [Johnson] has helped. Jaleel was a guy that was kind of like a bull in a china shop. He is just going to go, go, go. A lot of times that would get him in trouble. So now he is still the same bull, but he’s in the right gap.”
Hughes, Minnesota’s first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, had a pick-six in his first career game but suffered a torn ACL against Buffalo. Hill is an undrafted rookie out of Texas but has played more than 31 percent of Minnesota defensive snaps and has an interception.
Weatherly has 3.0 sacks in his third season while Johnson, a fourth-round pick out of Iowa in 2017, has 0.5 sacks and 18 total tackles (according to the coaches’ tally).
Here are two other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. A 10 spot
The last time the Vikings and Lions met, Minnesota set a franchise record with 10 total sacks on defense.
Hunter led the way with 3.5 of them. Tom Johnson had 2.5 sacks, and Griffen had 1.5. Mackensie Alexander and Weatherly had a sack apiece. Richardson had one-half sack in the 24-9 win.
Zimmer offered his take on why the Vikings were so successful that day.
“We have good players,” Zimmer said.
He then expanded on the record-setting performance.
“We were probably lucky in that game to get that many sacks,” Zimmer said. “We had [Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford] flustered a couple of times.
“One time, he was scrambling out of there,” Zimmer added. “I’m sure they are going to do a better job with keeping guys in.
The Vikings defense ranks first with 47 team sacks, while the Lions offense is tied for 16th with 37 sacks allowed.
2. Backs by committee
Lions running back Kerryon Johnson has missed the past four games but leads Detroit with 641 yards and also had three scores.
The Lions have turned to a stable of backs in his absence, including Eagan native Zach Zenner.
“I think he’s run the ball well. He’s physical, I’ve seen him make some really good cuts,” Zimmer said of Zenner. “He does a nice job in pass protection.
“They’re using him some in the receiving game as well, so I would assume we’ll see more of him, we’ll see more of [Theo Riddick], a little bit more of [LaGarrette] Blount,” Zimmer added.
Blount has a team-high five rushing touchdowns and 374 rushing yards. Zenner has 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns in six games.