Current Vikings defense impressing Purple People Eaters
MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings' defense has impressed a pair of Purple People Eaters.
Entering Sunday, Dec. 31's regular-season finale against Chicago at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings (12-3) rank No. 1 in the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense. They have finished first in both categories twice before, in 1969 and 1970.
Those were the early days of the fabled defensive line that featured hall of famers Alan Page and Carl Eller.
"I think they compare well with the Purple People Eaters," Eller said of this season's Vikings defense. "It's quite an achievement (being the top-ranked defense). Teams in the past have had a really hard time living up to the Purple People Eater legends, and that's been very difficult, and they're the best ones to really do that. So my hat's off to them."
Page feels likewise.
"I think it puts them in the same category" as the Purple People Eaters, he said. "That's just an amazing accomplishment."
Eller and Page spearheaded a defense that helped the Vikings reach Super Bowls following the 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons, although they lost them all.
When told what the hall of famers said about Minnesota's defense, Harrison Smith wasn't inclined to agree.
"They're probably just being nice," said Smith, ranked as the league's best safety by Pro Football Focus. "It's cool coming from legends like those guys. They're in the history books for a reason. But we've still got a lot of work to do."
The Vikings can lock up the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye with a win over the Bears (5-10). Minnesota is in good position to remain first in both defensive categories against a team that is 30th in the NFL in total offense and 29th in scoring offense.
In total defense, the Vikings are giving up 280.9 yards per game and have a 47-yard lead over second-place Denver and a 132-yard lead over third-place Jacksonville. In scoring defense, the Vikings are allowing 16.3 points per game and have a 11-point lead over second-place Jacksonville and a 20-point lead over the third-place Los Angeles Chargers.
"It speaks for itself," three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr said of the team's defensive statistics. "I don't think you have to talk too much; let the numbers talk for themselves."
Eller and Page, though, had plenty to say about the defense.
"I'm watching the whole team, but the defense is really exciting," Eller said. "They're all doing it. The guys are playing good up front, but they're getting good support in the back."
Similar to the days of the Purple People Eaters, Minnesota's defense starts with a strong line. The Vikings feature defensive end Everson Griffen, a three-time Pro Bowl player who is fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks, and nose tackle Linval Joseph, one of the league's top run stoppers.
"When you have a defensive team that does that well, good things happen, and a lot of success that the team has had this year is in large measure due to that," Page said.
So how much success can this team have?
"The team is very optimistic," Eller said. "They're playing to not only play in the Super Bowl but to win the Super Bowl, and I think they can. They've got the No. 1 defense, and I think they're probably the best team in football right now."
Eller and Page still live in the Twin Cities. They can only imagine what it would be like if the Vikings are playing in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"That's a pretty exciting prospect," Page said. "I think of what it would mean in the context of this community and what it would mean for the state and for (the Twin Cities). It would be a great thing. ... The defense is doing great, but the whole team is doing great."