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Lunchbreak: Vikings Run Defense in Spotlight Ahead of Week 17


The Vikings were knocked out of playoff contention in Week 16, as Minnesota fell to New Orleans on Christmas Day.

One area the Vikings will want to clean up entering the season finale? The run defense, which allowed a season-worst 264 rushing yards to the Saints.

Tyler Sullivan of CBS Sports said that phase, which now ranks 28th in the league at 134.8 rushing yards allowed per game, will need to be better in Week 17.

Sullivan wrote:

The Vikings simply had no answers for the Saints offense, specifically on the ground. While Alvin Kamara's historic night was obviously the headliner, the entire New Orleans backfield enjoyed success against Minnesota. As a team, the Saints rushed for 264 yards and seven touchdowns. Those struggles defensively were apparent right out of the gate as the Saints offense rolled to 216 yards in the first quarter. They had 14 first downs over that first quarter of play and didn't even face a third-down situation until around the start of the second.

That inability to slow Sean Payton's club down put tremendous pressure on the Vikings offense, which performed well overall. Kirk Cousins was able to score three touchdowns through the air and lead the offense to 33 points, but when your defense is allowing 52, it's darn near impossible to keep up. The 52 points allowed are also the most given up by the Vikings since the Cardinals put up 56 back in 1963.

The 264 rushing yards allowed by Minnesota are the most under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, topping the 2015 season opener when the 49ers ran for 230 yards.

"They manhandled us up front pretty well with the front guys and linebackers, but we didn't tackle," Zimmer said of Friday's performance.

The Vikings are now 6-9 and will head to Detroit to face the 5-10 Lions in Week 17.

The Lions offense is tied for 30th in rushing with 91.3 yards per game.

Harrison Hand steps up on defense

There were a few bright spots for the Vikings defense Friday, including the play of Harrison Hand.

The rookie cornerback played 16 defensive snaps, but made the most of them with his first pro interception.

Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune highlighted Hand’s noticeable impact from Minnesota's Christmas Day game.

Krammer wrote:

The Vikings were down three linebackers — Eric Kendricks (calf), Todd Davis (ribs) and Troy Dye (concussion) — because of injuries, so Zimmer's young defensive backs played even more.

Rookie Harrison Hand, the fifth-round pick out of Temple, made a strong impression, including when he made his first NFL interception as the fourth cornerback in a group of six defensive backs.

Hand, making his fifth appearance on defense this season, also had another pass deflection and a stop in punt coverage, corralling Saints returner Austin Carr for a 1-yard gain in the third quarter.

Hand's interception came off Drew Brees, who ranks first in NFL history with 80,157 passing yards and a completion percentage of 67.7. He is second all-time with 568 passing touchdowns.

Hand has now played 106 defensive snaps so far in 2020 and has been on the field for 134 snaps on special teams this season.