The Minnesota Vikings have played exceptional defense through six weeks of the 2017 NFL season.
This isn’t a secret. Minnesota ranks atop the league in rush yards per game allowed (3rd), total yards per game allowed (5th) and points per game allowed (5th). Moreover, many of the yards the Vikings defense has sacrificed in coverage this season have come during garbage time, suggesting that this unit could be even better than the statistics may suggest.
Simply put, Minnesota’s defense has performed at an extremely high level with both the film and statistics reinforcing this notion. One of the greatest reasons for this is the unit’s collective ability to maintain good coverage in the secondary, tackle effectively, limit yards after catch and, specifically as of late, create turnovers.
Let’s take a look at how Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Co. performed both against the Green Bay Packers during Week 6 and collectively across the season to date.
GREEN BAY PACKERS COVERAGE CHART
Top Performer: Harrison Smith — 8 Targets; 3 Receptions Allowed; 16 Yards Surrendered; 1 Interception
Weakest Link: Trae Waynes — 7 Targets; 4 Receptions Allowed; 56 Yards Surrendered; 1 Interception
With Aaron Rodgers only able to make four throws last weekend — netting a total of just 18 yards — the Vikings defensive coverage was able to thrive. Brett Hundley was able to complete a handful of excellent back-shoulder passes and beat Anthony Barr with a pass to Davante Adams in broken coverage, but the unit as a whole performed at an elite level once again.
Smith and Xavier Rhodes essentially shutdown an entire half of the field for 60 minutes, combining to allow just 40 total yards on seven catches despite 15 targets. Minnesota’s elite secondary duo also forced a pair of turnovers, allowing a ridiculously impressive passer rating of just 13.89 (h/t Erik Sangren).
It’s also worth noting that Emmanuel Lamur, who filled in for Anthony Barr (concussion) during the second half was extremely impressive. He was very solid in zone coerage, allowing only one target and surrendering zero total yards.
Trae Waynes was the weakest link for the Vikings against the Packers, but his performance was not nearly as poor as it has been in the past. While he has admittedly struggled throughout the year — as the below cumulative coverage chart will show — Waynes continues to maintain solid coverage and disallow yards after catch with efficient tackling. He may not have reached the level of play expected of a first-round pick, but Waynes appears to be gradually improving both in coverage and as a playmaker.
CUMULATIVE COVERAGE CHART
Top Performer: Xavier Rhodes — 33 Targets; 16 Receptions Allowed; 157 Yards Surrendered; 1 Interception
Weakest Link: Trae Waynes —43 Targets; 29 Receptions Allowed; 378 Yards and 1 Touchdown Surrendered
With exception to a few big plays and a couple of devastating pass interference penalties, the Vikings coverage has been extremely impressive this season. Rhodes and Smith have turned in elite seasons to date, Andrew Sendejo is possibly in the midst of his finest year and Mackensie Alexander has taken a greater step forward than many believed he would.
Anthony Barr, who has allowed 18 receptions this year, has actually played much better than the numbers suggest. Context is important here, as Barr has done an excellent job minimizing yards after catch by keeping his man in front of him and tackling much better than he did in 2016. Eric Kendricks, on the other hand, has struggled with tackling at points during this season and has benefitted from a couple of drops that could easily inflate his totals.
While teams have been able to take advantage of Waynes and Terence Newman at times, this is largely a very complete defensive team in coverage and the best may still be yet to come after back-to-back weeks of shutdown football.
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