Zimmer’s defense has been dominant

Published 8:27 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

EDEN PRAIRIE — The defense that Mike Zimmer has deliberately built since he became Minnesota’s head coach has been gradually ascending into one of the league’s best.

The Vikings have sure begun this season with a bang. For the second straight game, they turned an NFL MVP into a flustered, ineffective quarterback.

The defense racked up eight sacks and three interceptions of Carolina’s Cam Newton in the 22-10 victory over the defending NFC champion Panthers on Sunday. It was a resounding response by the Vikings (3-0) after having to put running back Adrian Peterson and left tackle Matt Kalil on injured reserve earlier in the week.

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“We feel like we can be one of the best ever to wear purple. That’s not taking away from the guys who wore purple before us, but we hold ourselves to that standard,” defensive end Brian Robison said.

The eight sacks were the most by the Vikings in a road game since Dec. 28, 2003, at Arizona. Newton, the most valuable player in 2015, fared even worse than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, the award winner in 2014, did the week before when the Vikings beat the Packers 17-14.

The Vikings lead the league with a plus-8 turnover margin. They have a league-high 15 sacks for a whopping 116 yards. Philadelphia is the next closest team with a total of 72 sack yards.

The engine of the group is in a front four that’s one of the deepest in the league, led by Everson Griffen, who had three sacks at Carolina. The heart rests with young linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, the hand-picked high draft picks who run Zimmer’s patented Double-A-gap blitz scheme.

There are so many athletic, versatile players throughout the defensive lineup that the Vikings are able to apply a pass rush from all corners of the field, making up for it with sound coverage beneath it.