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Vikings: We want to have best defense

By Chris Tomasson St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- It would seem to be reason for celebration. After having one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season, the Vikings are now ranked in the top 10. But that's not good enough for safety Rob...

By Chris Tomasson

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS - It would seem to be reason for celebration. After having one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season, the Vikings are now ranked in the top 10.

But that’s not good enough for safety Robert Blanton.

“Our goal is to be the best defensive unit in the NFL,” he said Monday. “I think we’re capable of being the best defense in the country if we all do our jobs and play as a team.”

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OK, one step a time. But there’s no doubt things are looking up.

“Our defense is night and day compared to what it was last year,” defensive end Everson Griffen said.

The Vikings gave up 30.0 points per game last season to rank last in the NFL in scoring defense. They were four points away from allowing the most points in any of the franchise’s 53 years.

In total defense, Minnesota was next to last at No. 31.

Now, though, the Vikings are No. 9 in total defense. In scoring, they’ve climbed to No. 12 at 21.6 after giving up an average of 15.7 points over the past three games.

“Our defense is a lot better than last year,” said defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. “We’ve got a lot of guys just buying into what the coaches are teaching.”

The top tutor is first-year coach Mike Zimmer, a longtime defensive coordinator. He came to Minnesota determined to put together a top-notch defense, and it’s starting to happen.

The primary moves in free agency were made on defenders, with the signings of defensive tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and defensive end Corey Wootton. The top draft choice was linebacker Anthony Barr, who has lived up to his billing after being the No. 9 pick in May.

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Barr was the star of Minnesota’s latest solid defensive performance. He stripped tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the ball on the first play of overtime Sunday and returned the fumble 27 yards for the winning touchdown in a 19-13 victory at Tampa Bay.

The Vikings’ offense is still finding its way, which is the main reason they are 3-5. Minnesota is playing with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and without several key offensive starters, including running back Adrian Peterson, who is on the NFL’s exempt list following an indictment last month on a felony charge of child abuse.

The defense, though, continues to get better. Never mind that Zimmer is shy on specifics about what was needed after last year’s disastrous showing under former coach Leslie Frazier.

“When I went to Cincinnati, they weren’t very good defensively,” Zimmer said about becoming Bengals defensive coordinator in 2008. “I looked at the tapes just like I looked at the tapes here, but I don’t ever have a pre-conceived idea of what we can be or what we can’t be until we get out on the field.

“We did bring in quite a few players. … This is a different group and then a bunch of (holdovers) that didn’t play (a lot) last year. … We still have a long way to go to be where I want to get.”

Zimmer righted the Bengals’ defense, coaching them to four top 10 rankings in his final six years in Cincinnati. Now, he’s turning around Minnesota’s unit.

A big key has been the pass rush. The Vikings are second in the NFL with 25 sacks; Griffen, a reserve last year, is third among individual players with eight.

The pass defense has been surprisingly strong. After ranking 31st in the NFL last season in passing yards allowed, Minnesota is fourth this year.

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“It’s complementary,” said cornerback Josh Robinson. “Without the front getting the pressure and without the linebackers being in coverage, we can’t do it.”

The secondary was very young last season, but gained experience with the signing of sixth-year man Munnerlyn. Also, safety Harrison Smith is healthy after missing eight games in 2013.

“Zimmer’s defense adds a whole another element that we haven’t had before,” defensive end Brian Robison said of its aggressiveness. “We can play lights out on defense if everybody is doing their job. We’ve got a chance to be really good.”

How good? Robinson was told what Blanton had said.

“It’s something that we’re not throwing out in the media, but that’s what our goal is,” Robinson said. “We want to be the best.”

Consider it thrown out.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service

 

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