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Vikings Defense Holds Arizona to 0-For-10 Outing on 3rd Downs

MINNEAPOLIS — There were 10 times on Sunday when the Vikings defense was on the field on third downs.

Mike Zimmer's defense rose to the challenge each and every time.

On a day where Minnesota allowed just 10 points on defense in a 27-17 win, it was on third down where the Vikings were at their best as they shut down Arizona and held the Cardinals to an 0-for-10 outing.

"We take a lot of pride in getting off the field on third down," said Vikings safety Anthony Harris. "Get them in third down and then get off the field … that was the mindset and has been the mindset."

Arizona started rookie quarterback Josh Rosen at U.S. Bank Stadium. He completed just one of seven passes for minus-2 yards on third downs in front of a loud and frenzied crowd.

Vikings players credited Zimmer for dialing up a handful of exotic schemes that confused and flustered the 10th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

"We've got a lot of guys that can play in a lot of packages," said Vikings safety George Iloka, who made his first start in Purple. "I think he gave them a lot of different pitches, so to say, if it's a baseball game.

"He threw a lot at them, gave them a knuckle here, a curve here, a fastball here. That's what Zim' does, one of the best defensive minds in the league," Iloka added. "That's why he's had the success he's had. Third downs are the key. If you get the opposite team off the field on third downs, you're going to have a higher success rate."

Added Harris: "Zim' was being Zim'. He was calling the game like he usually does. We were able to hit home on a couple of blitzes, and guys were able to get to the quarterback and try to make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket."

Rosen threw incomplete on his first third-down pass as Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was covered by Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander.

Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr then batted down Rosen's next third-down attempt, which led to an Arizona field goal.

Alexander raced in to sack Rosen on the next third down for his second career sack. Harris later had solid coverage on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, a key play in a goal-line stop for Minnesota.

Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes then blanketed his man on a crossing route on third-and-9 before Arizona was short of the sticks for an 8-yard run on a third-and-10 from its own 3-yard line.

Zimmer then dialed up the pressure, sending Harrison Smith on a blitz with Arizona backed up neat its own end zone. The Vikings safety took Rosen to the ground at the 1-yard line for a near-safety and his 12th career sack.

"That's obviously great," Smith said of Minnesota's big day on third downs. "When smaller guys are getting sacks … the guys up front, you obviously want to block them first.

"When those guys get pressure with four-man rushes, it makes it easier when we go," Smith said of the pair of sacks by defensive backs. "We get the glory but they do the work."

Harris then stepped in front of a Rosen third-down pass late in the third quarter for his first career interception.

"It felt great. I've been able to get some in the preseason, but to get one in a regular-season game when it's a bit more meaningful, it felt really good," Harris said. "There was a lot of energy out there. To make that play, guys were having fun, and there were a ton of guys making plays on the field."

Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter, who had a pair of sacks and now has a six-game sacks streak, then pressured Rosen into another completion early in the fourth quarter to put the quarterback at 0-for-6 on the day on third down.

The rookie from UCLA finally completed his first third-down pass late in the fourth quarter, but his screen to Fitzgerald on third-and-23 went for a loss of 2 yards.

By then, the Purple faithful had come to expect another stop by the Vikings defense.

And it wasn't as if the Cardinals faced third-and-long all day, as only two of Arizona's third-downs were 10 yards or longer.

Minnesota's defense entered Sunday ranked fourth in the NFL with a third-down percentage of 29.6.

After a splendid performance Sunday, that mark is now at an even 25 percent, which is better than the 25.2 percent Minnesota had in 2017 when the defense set an NFL record.

"We have a lot of things on third down that we can go to," Zimmer said. "Teams come in there and they change everything that they've been doing for five weeks, and you just have to go out and adjust a lot.

"The whole game is about adjusting and talking about the blitzes, the protections and, 'Alright, now we have to run this one,' " Zimmer added. "So you have to have enough bullets in your holster that you can pull some out and you hope you pull the right ones out."

Zimmer and his crew certainly did so Sunday.