Defense Wins

by Jayson Brown @brownjayson

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Throughout this offseason, the Vikings have made a concerted effort to improve the offensive unit that finished 2016 ranked 22nd in points per drive (1.72) and 26th in DVOA (-9.3%). 
Heading into free agency and the draft, many people, including myself, lamented the lack of resources poured into the offensive unit in recent years.  Rick Spielman acknowledged the need to bolster the unit by signing Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers during free agency and by adding Dalvin Cook, Pat Elflein, Rodney Adams, Danny Isidora, Bucky Hodges, and Stacey Coley in the draft.
Much of this offseason has been spent with Vikings fan focused on the offense.  Each week we engage in spirited dialogue discussing the virtues of Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater.  Countless gif threads from Jake, Myles, Tim, and JR have filled our minds with endless possibilities for what our offense can become. 

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It’s fun to fantasize about a high-powered Vikings offense, but the reality is Mike Zimmer’s defense is the engine that will power our team’s success.  Zimmer’s recent comments reinforce the notion that our philosophy is anchored to the strength of his defense.

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Zimmer inherited the 32nd ranked defense for points allowed when he became head coach in 2014.  In year one of the Zimmer rebuild, the defense improved to 11th followed by 5th and 6thplace finishes in 2015 and 2016.  In the past two season, the Vikings defense have held opponents under 310 total points scored (302 – 2015; 307 – 2016).

Since 1997, 14 defenses have extended streaks of holding opponents under 310 points beyond two seasons.  The expectation for most fans is the Vikings streak will continue and the defense will continue to improve.  This optimism is backed by the steady points per drive improvement during the Zimmer era.  In 2014, Minnesota’s defense ranked 18th (1.92) and improved steadily during Zimmer tenure posting finishes of 12th in 2015 (1.77) and 7th in 2016 (1.72).  Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric shows a similar trend with Minnesota going from 23rd to 14th to 9th across the past three seasons.

The progression of the Zim Reapers (copyright pending Saxy Prince Ent.) will be a fascinating storyline heading into 2017.  Will the Vikings be the 15th team to extend its streak of holding opponents under 310 points to three seasons?  Will the positive trends in points per drive and DVOA continue?  Will the Minnesota’s defense become an elite or historic unit?  Will replacing Captain Munnerlyn be seamless?  Will the depth hold up if key players miss time?  Are the front seven reinforcements enough to account for our lack of proven commodities in the secondary?

During this offseason, we’ll undoubtedly spend countless hours debating who should be QB1 but maybe it’s time to turn our attention to who will be CB4. 

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