The Vikings bulked up their defensive line over the offseason, and we've seen the results of an improved unit against the passing game.
There still have been ups and downs against the run, though, as the Star Tribune's Andrew Krammer noted that Minnesota has allowed 100-plus rushing yards in 12 straight games. He delved into the Vikings run game for this week's "Film review" column. Krammer wrote:
The Vikings defense is starting to come together, but there remains an uncharacteristic flaw in [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's side of the ball that should be worrisome with [Panthers RB] Christian McCaffrey, [Cowboys RB] Ezekiel Elliott and [Ravens QB] Lamar Jackson among the next three opponents.
Krammer said "the issues are multiple." He looked at a number of specific plays, including a few from Sunday's game against the Lions.
The Vikings were seemingly late adjusting to the counters that led to some of Detroit's biggest runs, including gains of 9, 11, and 12 yards. Misdirection was really the only way the Lions offense could spring running backs D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. The Vikings were consistently winning matchups up front. Defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter often made quick work of Lions tackles Penei Sewell and Matt Nelson.
Yet the Lions still found daylight on the perimeter with play designs for which the Vikings weren't prepared. Swift (#32) picks up 12 yards on this counter run in the first quarter, which left Kendricks chasing and Zimmer blaming himself for the coverage call. Notice below the deep "shell" coverage that has all four defensive backs playing off, leaving the front seven in a tough spot to handle a condensed Lions formation and running game by themselves.
As the play develops, Kendricks (#54) eyes an opening and shoots the gap. That split-second decision is his to make, according to Zimmer, even as he risks missing and opening a hole. But even as Kendricks attacks the wrong side of the counter run, which pivots away from him, the All-Pro linebacker could have caught it from behind if a cornerback was there to force contain and widen Swift to the sideline. There's not even a Vikings defender for the Lions lead blocker, fullback Jason Cabinda (#45), to hit as he pulls around the left side.
To view all of Krammer's film breakdowns, click here.
Graff: Alan Page renowned in 'NFL's mangled hands club'
Vikings Legend Alan Page has quite the impressive résumé, as noted when the Hall of Famer somehow was turned down for "verified" status by Twitter:
But one more distinctive quality that sets him apart is more physically visible: his broken pinky finger.
Chad Graff of The Athletic wrote a story about "the NFL’s mangled hands club" in which he discussed the lore of Ronnie Lott's left pinky finger being cut off, as well as former Bengals tackle Anthony Muñoz. Graff wrote:
Muñoz, one of the greatest linemen to ever play the game, has perhaps the gnarliest finger of them all, a left pinky that's permanently bent 90 degrees thanks to 185 games in the NFL. The shared experience bonds those in the mangled finger club, though admittance into the group is subjective. It's a you-know-it-when-you-see-it type thing.
"Everyone is trying to get in like, 'Baldy, does this qualify?' " said former linemen Brian Baldinger, whose right pinky juts askew. "It's like I'm some sort of official judge. It's hilarious. Who knew back then in 1983 it would be such a popular thing? People love to see it and take pictures with it. It's crazy."
In referencing Page, Graff noted that "children in particular take great interest in the damaged digits."
When former Vikings great Alan Page — NFL Hall of Famer, associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — talks to students, the kids are more interested in a left pinky finger that juts out horizontally. Because of that, Page wrote a children's book with his daughter called "Alan and His Perfectly Pointy, Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky."
"When I talk with young children, I tell them it makes a great bicycle turn signal," Page told Graff.