We're About To Find Out How Good Minnesota's Run Defense Really Is

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman (USA TODAY Sports)

Jack-o’-lanterns, apple bobbing, and costumes galore!

Yes, spooky season is upon us, and this year Halloween falls on a Sunday, which means the Minnesota Vikings will be on TV. While most people watch horror movies or go to haunted houses to get a good scare, all the Vikings have to do is remember what happened the last time they played on a holiday.

Last Christmas, the Vikings traveled to New Orleans, where Alvin Kamara did his best Sweeney Todd impression by butchering the Vikings’ run defense. He figuratively turned all 11 defenders on the field into a festive pie fit for a Christmas dinner in the Big Easy.

This abysmal showing was a microcosm of the defense’s performance throughout the season. The Vikings’ run defense allowed 2,151 yards through 16 games, the sixth-most in the league. Mike Zimmer wasn’t pleased, calling the last year’s defense the worst he’s ever had.

Naturally, he had Rick Spielman bring in some reinforcements. The Vikings went from having Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson anchor the middle of the defense to boasting a newly rebuilt interior defensive line featuring Dalvin Tomlinson, Sheldon Richardson, and Michael Pierce. The latter had yet to play a down for the Vikings despite signing with the team last year. Ultimately, the Vikings spent just over $13 million on those three players, accounting for 7% of the team’s cap spending.

Many fans were excited to see how this revamped defensive line would look. Hopes were high for the unit heading into the year. We now have a pretty good idea of how good the interior defensive line is six games into the season.

Tomlinson has been the most effective out of the trio, with a 77.2 overall PFF grade. Pierce has been steady as well (68.3 overall PFF grade). Granted, he’s only played 60 snaps in four games due to an elbow injury he suffered against the Cleveland Browns. Richardson? He hasn’t been his usual self (59.5 overall PFF grade).

The Vikings’ defense as a whole has seen significant improvement from last season. Currently, Minnesota is ranked seventh in team defense, and for good reason.

  • They are tied for the most sacks in the league
  • Tied for third in passing TDs allowed
  • Have the highest hurry percentage
  • Highest pressure rate
  • Sixth in total yards allowed

However, these stats don’t tell the whole story. The unfortunate truth is that the Vikings’ run defense has been underwhelming, even against teams that don’t tend to run the football effectively. The three lowest-ranked rushing teams the Vikings have played thus far are the Carolina Panthers (20th), Arizona Cardinals (23rd), and the Detroit Lions (28th).

Those three opponents combined to average 4.7 yards per carry against the Vikings, which isn’t ideal for a coach who prioritizes stopping the run above all else. Additionally, the Vikings have also struggled against teams that have a strong ground game. The three highest-ranked rushing teams the Vikings have played are the Browns (fourth), Cincinnati Bengals (eighth), and the Seattle Seahawks (10th).

  • The duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 35 carries, 169 yards, and 1 TD, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
  • Joe Mixon alone rushed for 127 yards and scored a TD, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
  • Last and certainly the least favorable for the Vikings is Chris Carson, who averaged a whopping 6.7 yards per carry.

For comparison, Alvin Kamara averaged seven yards per carry in the now infamous Christmas Day matchup. Overall, the Minnesota Vikings have allowed 5.3 yards per carry against top-10 rushing teams.

That’s pretty concerning, mainly because the Vikings will have to slow down Ezekiel Elliott this Halloween. Elliott is currently the league’s fifth-best rusher and is quietly having his most efficient year since his rookie campaign, averaging just over five yards per carry. The Cowboys also happen to boast the league’s best run-blocking offensive line and a top-five pass-blocking unit, which only further complicates things for the Vikings’ defense.

It’s not just Zeke the Vikings have to worry about either. Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys are loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball, with players like CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson, Dalton Schultz, and Tony Pollard, who has been an effective complementary back to Elliott. Dallas will have the luxury of being able to choose whether to throw or run the ball.

Although the Vikings’ run defense has improved significantly from last year, they can’t allow running backs to get four to five yards per carry every week and expect to win. If the Vikings can’t improve in this area, the defense is in for a scare this Halloween.

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