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Their defense has been leaky, yet Vikings somehow have a gaudy 9-2 record

A plus-6 turnover margin, including some game-saving plays by the defense have helped the cause

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates after sacking New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones on Nov. 24, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates after sacking New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones on Nov. 24, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports
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EAGAN, Minn. — When NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson was discussing the Minnesota Vikings’ defense this week, it sounded as if he were talking about last year’s unit.

“That Vikings’ defense, they can’t stop a nosebleed,” Robinson, a former Pro Bowl fullback, said on the air.

Last season, the Vikings finished 30th among 32 NFL teams in total defense, a major reason they missed the playoffs with an 8-9 record. But this year’s Minnesota defense actually has been worse from a statistical standpoint.

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The Vikings rank No. 31 in total defense, ahead of only Detroit, but somehow are 9-2 heading into Sunday’s game against the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium.

In their only two losses, the Vikings were blown out 24-7 on Sept. 19 at Philadelphia and 40-3 to Dallas on Nov. 20. Otherwise, eight of their nine wins have come in one-score games. And with regularity, Minnesota’s defense has stepped up to make big late-game plays. They rank third in the NFL with a plus-six turnover differential.

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In wins in November, the Vikings got a key fourth-quarter interception at Washington by safety Harrison Smith, two important late-game interceptions by cornerback Patrick Peterson at Buffalo, and some key fourth-quarter sacks against New England. But the Vikings know, though, that it might not be a good idea to keep living on the edge. And that means tightening up.

“You can always limit these things and make these games more decided in our favor,’’ Smith said Friday. “It’s pretty cool to have been (making key plays) in the moment, but we need to be better before then.’’

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) on Nov. 13, 2022, in Orchard Park, New York.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) on Nov. 13, 2022, in Orchard Park, New York.
Gregory Fisher / USA Today Sports

The Vikings rank last in the league in pass defense, giving up an average of 276.1 yards per game. Overall, they’ve allowed an average of 390.7 yards per outing. In scoring defense, they rank No. 21, giving up an average of 23.4 points a game.

Peterson said the Vikings are “not stat-wise where we want to be,” but added the defense remains a work in progress. Linebacker Jordan Hicks agreed. “The key is always to find a way to win while continuing to get better, and obviously, if that’s an area where we’re giving up too many yards, we want to improve on that,” he said.

Getting rugged defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson back could help. He missed the past four games with a calf strain. When he was out, Minnesota allowed an average of 404 yards per game — 451 in the past three.

The Vikings also will get back Akayleb Evans, who missed the past two games due to a concussion and will start Sunday at right cornerback. They’re still missing starting cornerback Cameron Dantzler, on injured reserve with a high left ankle sprain, but he is expected to return Dec. 11 at Detroit.

Against the Jets, Minnesota will try to slow down second-year quarterback Mike White, who replaced Zach Wilson as the starter and threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-10 win last Sunday over Chicago. But White, making just his fifth career start, will be on the road in a hostile environment on Sunday.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make it tough on him,’’ Hicks said.

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So far, opposing teams have thrown for a lot of yards, and overall piled up a lot against the Vikings. Head coach Kevin O’Connell is well aware of that.

“We’re always continuing to try to find ways of limiting some of the yardage and play a little bit more consistent,” he said. “… But in the end, as far as being 9-2, (that) is what matters ultimately to the guys in this building.”

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