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Vikings Aim to Improve Two-Minute Defense in 2016

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It would have been easy for members of the Vikings defense to sound their own horn last Tuesday when they met with members of the media.

After all, the unit allowed just 18.9 points per game in 2015, the fifth-best points allowed average in the NFL. And a far cry from 2013 when Minnesota's defense gave up a league-high 30 points per game.

But multiple returning defenders said last year's performance left room for improvement.

The Vikings ranked 13th at 344.2 yards allowed per game, were 14th in yards allowed per play at 5.43 and finished 16th in first downs allowed with 19.9 per game. 

Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn noted he doesn't want to see an uptick in any particular category. Instead, he wants to improve in all of them.

"We can get a whole lot better," Munnerlyn said. "We want to be a top-five defense.

"We have the talent, we have the pieces in place, we just need to go out there and execute the game plan, and later in games we need to learn how to finish better," he added. "Sometimes we give up garbage yards at the end of the game, and that's not us."

Munnerlyn's point about late-game situations was echoed by his teammates — and is backed up by statistics.

Of their 16 regular season games, the Vikings gave up points in the final two minutes of either half a total of 15 times in 13 games. (Minnesota also intentionally took a safety late in a win at Detroit).

In all, the Vikings surrendered a total of 90 points (including the safety) during those time spans. That includes a pair of game-winning field goals in losses at Denver and Arizona, plus a game-tying field goal by the Rams in a game the Vikings eventually won in overtime. 

The point total accounted for 29.8 percent of the 302 against the Vikings in 2015 in less than one percent (0.66) of the game time (final two minutes of every half, compared to 60 minutes in every game and the overtime against the Rams).

Minnesota didn't allow any points in the final two minutes of each half at home against Kansas City in Week 6, at home vs. Chicago in Week 15 and in the NFC North-clinching win in Green Bay in the regular season finale.

"Speaking for the defense, we were pretty bad in two-minute situations last year," said safety Harrison Smith. "That's one specific area that we definitely need to work on." 

With the issue pinpointed for improvement, the Vikings were asked how they can improve with the clocking ticking away in each half.

Smith mentioned the core of the defense being intact for another year as a starting point.

We are all kind of familiar with each other, we know how each other operate, so there's certain things you pick up on by playing together, building a chemistry," Smith said. "You can look at a guy some times and you don't even have to communicate because you already know, he knows I know, so there's little things like that always that helps things run smoothly."

Vikings defensive end Brian Robison offered that the front seven needs to put constant pressure on the quarterback.

"I don't think it was necessarily fatigue, there were some times we needed to play a little tighter coverage," Robison said. "But I think we've got to get to the quarterback.

"That's the big deal for us. Even if the ball is coming out fast, we've got to get more hits on the quarterback and create turnovers," he added.

The Vikings have been hard at work at Winter Park since beginning their voluntary offseason workout program last week. Coaches also are allowed to meet with players.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has likely drilled the message into their heads that there can be an improvement in the final two minutes of each half.

But if the Vikings need another reminder, just look at the final game of the 2015 season.

The pair of Super Bowl 50 defenses each fared well in the final two minutes of each half, Denver and Carolina combined to give up just 81 points in that time frame.

Two of the best defenses in the league made an impression on Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen.

"Defense wins championships," Griffen said. "If you've got a great front four, great linebackers, a great secondary and play together for four quarters, you're going to win a lot of games, and that's what the Denver Broncos did.

"They played, rushed, covered, they talk, went out there and executed. That's what you need to win the championship," he added.

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