Are The Vikings the Team to Beat in NFC?

Written by Jared Dublin at

Four games into the 2016 season, it’s tough to say that any team has been definitively better than the Minnesota Vikings. There’s no need to beat around the bush. This team is a Super Bowl contender and we all know why: the defense.

Mike Zimmer’s crew has the look of a unit that, much like the 2015 Broncos, can carry a team on its back all season. Zimmer took over a team that the year prior to his hiring ranked 31st in yards allowed, 32nd in points allowed, and 27th in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA. The Vikings have been steadily moving up the rankings in each of those categories, and are finally near the top of the NFL in all three this season.

Note: DVOA ranking is current through Week 3, yards and points through Week 4.

2013 31 32 27
2014 14 11 23
2015 13 5 14
2016 3 1 3

The Vikings on Monday night held the Giants, who came into the game with the NFL’s second-ranked offense in yards per game, to 339 yards and an average of just 5.4 per play, nearly a full yard worse than their average entering the contest (6.3). The Minnesota pass defense, in particular, was smothering, holding Eli Manning to a brutal line 25 of 43 for 261 yards (5.8 per attempt) and an interception on a bad miscommunication with Odell Beckham, who was also held in check all night.

Manning’s game was even worse than it looked, as he got 67 of those passing yards via a screen pass to rookie running back Paul Perkins, who basically created the entire play from nothing after catching the ball two yards behind the line of scrimmage. New York’s wide receiver trio — Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shephard — came into the game having racked up more receiving yards than all but one other top three in the league, but they were each held to 50 yards in the air or fewer in this one. Beckham was held to a career-low three catches for 23 yards.

New York never seriously threatened to score on any drive other than the one that included Perkins’ catch and run. Anthony Barr was everywhere. Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman, and Trae Waynes were excellent in coverage. Linval Joseph clogged up the middle. Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter continued their breakout campaigns. Zimmer has this unit firing on all cylinders, at all three levels. It’s difficult to imagine any defense playing better than these guys are right now.

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