In Friday’s mailbag feature, a reader asked if the Vikings rushing defense is as good as advertised or if the unit’s numbers are so impressive because teams simply choose not to run against the Vikings. I thought it was a fair question, which is why I actually dug into some numbers and gave it extra thought.
Ultimately my opinion is that the rushing defense is as good (or maybe better) than widely thought. You can read my complete answer by clicking this link and checking out Friday’s mailbag feature.
But I wanted to expand a little bit on my original answer.
For a short time during 2006, some questioned the legitimacy of the Vikings rushing defense because although they were not allowing many rushing yards, they also had the least number of rushes attempted against them. Ultimately, though, the thought that the rushing defense was so good because no one ran against them was neutralized by the fact that the Vikings allowed only 2.8 yards per attempt.
For the 2009 Vikings rushing defense, though, the yards per carry number isn’t as impressive – the Vikings are allowing 4.1 yards per attempt. So that makes the “no one is running against them argument” a little more valid, right? Maybe, but there are other factors to consider and when those factors are considered, you can see why the Vikings rushing defense is actually as good as advertised, if not actually better.
A few things to consider…
— The Vikings have allowed only 3 rushing TDs all year, which is tied for 1st (New England) in the NFL.
— There’s something to be said for a defense setting the tone of the game by shutting down the run. The running game is just as much about imposing your will upon the opponent as it is about actual production. The Vikings have the NFL’s 2nd-ranked rushing defense in the 1st half, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry. This means that the Vikings are shutting down the run early and forcing teams out of their game plan and into pass-happy attacks. The Vikings have allowed 100 more rushing yards in the 2nd half of games than they have in the 1st half, which means teams are gaining most of their rushing yards against the Vikings at a time when the Vikings are usually protecting a lead and anticipating the pass (the Vikings have outscored opponents in the 2nd half by a 202-135 margin). So instead of using the “no one is running against them argument” against the Vikings, that argument can actually be used in support of the rushing defense.
— The Vikings rushing defense comes up when it counts the most. We already know they’ve given up a league-low 3 TDs, but they also lead the NFL in opponent’s 3rd-and-short rushing conversion rate. Opposing teams convert just 38.9% of the time on the ground in 3rd and short (under 4 yards) scenarios against the Vikings.
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