Minnesota Vikings Change No. 4: Improved Third-Down Defense
The Vikings defense struggled a bit last year, and a big reason why was they had trouble getting off the field on the third down.
Nothing is more frustrating for a defense than to shut a team down on first and second downs, only to have them convert on third down, keeping the drive alive. This was a problem all season long for the Vikings, and it kept them from closing out games much earlier than they should have, and also caused their defense to wear down late in games.
In 2019, the Vikings finished 19th in the league with a 39. 66 percent opponent conversion rate on third downs. That is up from 30.53 percent in 2018. There could be a number of reasons why. The first being the Vikings didn’t have that guy in the middle who could create interior pressure. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson left for the Cleveland Browns in the 2019 offseason and the Vikings replaced him with a run stuffer. Those guys are key as they disrupt the timing of an offense and often come up biggest on third down when a team is looking to pass, and quarterbacks are forced to hurry their throws when there is a large man busting through the middle of the line and breathing down his neck.
Another reason why teams had success against the Vikings on third downs, is because of poor coverage. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was a shell of himself last season and lost a lot of confidence. Teams routinely threw his way and found success more times than not.
The Vikings will hope, with Rhodes gone, their coverage will be better this season. They will also hope linemen Armon Watts and James Lynch can provide some interior pressure that will cause quarterbacks to hurry their throws which will lead to more incompletions and the Vikings getting off the field on third downs more often in 2020.