EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have looked like a different team in the past three games, all of which have resulted in wins.
Minnesota's offense features a host of playmakers, including Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson. Kirk Cousins has posted three consecutive games with a passer rating above 100 and is coming off perhaps his best two games of the season. And it's all happening behind an offensive line that continues to progress as the season rolls along.
Defensively, the unit has taken some steps forward following some early-season struggles. The Vikings allowed 32.0 points per game in the first six weeks of the season, but have given up just 21.7 points per game in three consecutive wins.
One reason for the turnaround? Energy, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday in a videoconference with the Twin Cities media.
"When we played — who was it? — Atlanta in our stadium, it was pretty dead in there," Zimmer said of a fan-less U.S. Bank Stadium. "I think getting used to this no fans and COVID and all these different things, it's taken a little while to understand that we have to bring our own energy, we have to bring our own excitement.
"We have to play well, but when you play at a different level, that's been important, as well," Zimmer added. "I do think it's been a part of it, and we keep talking about it each and every week."
Minnesota has rattled off three straight division wins. Victories over Green Bay and Chicago came on the road, while a win against Detroit was at home.
The Vikings now sit at 3-1 in NFC North play, the best divisional record among the four teams, although Minnesota is the only team to have played four such games.
Zimmer was asked if he put an extra emphasis on the recent three-game stretch.
"Well, you know, quite honestly … I don't talk about those things," Zimmer said. "I talk about each individual game.
"Obviously for me, it's important we win our division games but each week is completely different," Zimmer added. "I'm trying to win every game, not just the division games. I don't know … maybe we just have been playing well the last three weeks is the way to say it."
Zimmer is 21-18-1 in his career against the NFC North. The Vikings best marks within the division came in 2015 and 2017 when they went 5-1 each season. They also won the division in those years.
Minnesota is set for four non-division games in a row, before hosting Chicago in Week 15 and ending the regular season in Detroit.
Here are two other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. Hello, old friend
Zimmer will likely see a familiar face at opposing quarterback on Sunday in Andy Dalton, who has missed the past two games.
Dalton replaced Dak Prescott in Week 5 but was injured himself in Week 7. Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy announced Wednesday that Dalton has cleared both concussion and COVID-19 protocols, and is on track to start Sunday.
Zimmer and Dalton, of course, spent the 2011-2013 seasons together with the Bengals.
Zimmer was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator from 2008-13, when his defense ranked in the top 10 in both points and yards allowed per game four times.
Dalton was a second-round pick by the Bengals out of TCU. He started 133 career games for Cincinnati from 2011-2019, going 70-61-2 with 31,594 passing yards, 204 touchdowns and 118 interceptions.
Zimmer commented on their relationship Monday.
"Really good. Andy's a great kid. Really good person. Great family," Zimmer said. "He won an awful lot of games there.
"I loved being able to go out and compete against him all the time," Zimmer added. "Very accurate, good arm, very cerebral, very smart. He's a great kid."
Dalton's only previous start against Zimmer went the head coach's way back in December of 2017.
The Vikings cruised to a 34-7 win over the Bengals to clinch the NFC North, as Dalton completed 11-of-22 passes for 113 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked twice and had a passer rating of 27.3.
2. An update on Dantzler
Zimmer provided an update on rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler, who hasn't played since being carted off the field in the first half of the Week 8 game at Lambeau Field.
Dantzler suffered a concussion and a neck injury on the scary play and returned to practice on a limited basis last week.
He was listed as questionable on the final injury report but was downgraded to out the day before Monday night's game against the Bears.
"He wasn't ready to play," Zimmer said.
Zimmer was also asked about Dantzler's status for the coming week.
"We haven't practiced yet, so I have no idea," Zimmer said.
The Vikings held their Wednesday practice a little later than normal because of the short week.