The Vikings One Heinous Tendency on Defense

The 2020 Minnesota Vikings defense was awful, ranking 29th in the NFL for points allowed and 18th in defensive DVOA. Both marks were unbecoming of the typical Mike Zimmer standard.

The troubles didn’t last long as the Vikings defense in 2021 is markedly improved from last year. In fact, Minnesota ranks eighth in the NFL for defensive DVOA right now and eighth in defensive EPA/play. So, if you believe math heads, the Vikings own the NFL’s eighth-best offense.

Several tendencies by the Vikings are underwhelming. Just because the defense from 2021 is better than 2020’s edition – does not make it flawless. For example, the Vikings run defense is still strangely bad. Zimmer’s defense ranks 28th leaguewide for rushing yards allowed. They’re also penalized too much. The Vikings rank 27th in defensive penalty yards. And, the Vikings defense surrenders far too many first downs (they rank 25th in this metric).

The team should undoubtedly clean up those marks, but the Vikings have a more pressing matter. Minnesota’s most heinous blooper right now is surrendering points in the final two minutes of the 1st Half.

Here’s the deal: The Vikings have allowed 52 points inside the final two minutes of the 1st Half of games. That’s ungodly. Through nine games, the opponent is effectively guaranteed to score points if it gets the football right before halftime. You can write it down because it’s going to happen.

The Vikings allow 25% of all opponents’ points to hit the scoreboard within the last two minutes of the 2nd Quarter. 52 out of 211 points leaked onto the Vikings opponent’s ledger right before the end of the 1st Half.

This oddity is especially kooky because Zimmer’s defense, for the most part, plays well outside of the two-minute parameter. But something sets in for the opposing quarterback, the Vikings defense bends and breaks, and boom – the other team gets touchdowns. Lately, the feeling is “set your watch to it.”

The final two minutes of the 2nd Quarter accounts for a total 3.3% of football games. Minnesota is allowing 25% of all points in 3.3% of the game. Think about the outrageousness of that math. If they could clean up the final two minutes of the 1st Half, Zimmer’s defense would arguably be worthy of Top 3 caliber recognition.

No such luck, though, as handing other teams points near halftime is a grave miscue. Vikings fans could live with an occasional score by the opposition, but the opponents are scoring predictably and weekly.

Should the Vikings maintain realistic playoff aspirations, this is the spot to fix before any others. The late-half tendencies from Zimmer’s defense are ruining other facets of the game. Every contest is a close game, so taking care of business before halftime could help prevent weekly anxiety fests. Gifting points before the midpoint of a game is demoralizing. Plus, the points give the opposition momentum heading into the 2nd Half.

Nothing at all good comes from allowing 5.8 points per final two minutes of a 1st Half. That’s the Vikings current total. Thankfully, Zimmer’s Vikings do other stuff well – limiting turnovers, getting off the field defensively on 3rd Down, sacking quarterbacks – so his team isn’t devastated by the late-half shenanigans.

Just imagine, however, how much better the Vikings could be if they didn’t allow a final-two-minute bonanza to the opponent every week.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).