Mike Zimmer has a history of quick defensive turnarounds, and he has done it again in 2014.
No NFL team has improved its ranking in total defense from 2013 to 2014 more than the Vikings, who with a strong finish can climb into the league’s top 10.
The Vikings are tied for 11th in total defense, allowing 339.9 yards per game. Last season, under Leslie Frazier, they ranked 31st at 397.6 per game.
This year’s team is 43 total yards allowed behind the San Diego Chargers, who rank ninth.
“It always comes back to one attitude I like about this team,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “No matter what our ranking is, we’re not satisfied and we want to be better. So for these next two games, we’re going to make a push to keep climbing the rankings and hopefully have something good to build off in the offseason.”
There is instability when it comes to top-10 defenses. Only three teams that ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed a season ago — Seattle, San Francisco and Buffalo — are in the top 10 this season. There are five offenses in the top 10 in total yards for a second consecutive year.
Denver, Kansas City, San Diego, Washington and Miami, which the Vikings play this weekend, have gone from the bottom half of the league in 2013 to the top 10 in 2014. But no team has climbed higher than the Vikings’ 20-spot rise even with eight new starters on defense.
“It is a totally different room,” Robison said.
Zimmer doesn’t want to think about his team’s defensive ranking until after the season.
“There’s still a lot of football to be played,” the first-year coach said. “I had a defense in Dallas one time that was really good, I think we were fifth in the league at one time. And the last four games we didn’t play worth a lick, and we ended up 13th in the league, so I’d just as soon wait until we finish up.”
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater grew up in Miami and expects to have a lot of supporters at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.
“I’m pretty loved back home in Miami and a lot of people tell me that I’m a role model in my community,” Bridgewater said. “So it’ll be amazing to see how many turn out there and get to see me play in person.”
Bridgewater added that when he was a kid, he knew he would play at the stadium someday.
“As a child I had high dreams and aspirations [about] making it to the National Football League, and to be able to play there my first year in the NFL, it’s pretty amazing,” he said.
Down to three healthy safeties, the Vikings promoted Ahmad Dixon from their practice squad to fill the spot on the 53-man roster vacated when tackle J’Marcus Webb was waived Tuesday.
Dixon started the season with Dallas, which drafted him in the seventh round. The rookie since spent time with the Vikings, Bears, Dolphins and the Vikings again. He has only played in an NFL game for the Bears, on special teams.
“He’s a talented guy,” Zimmer said. “He’s been bouncing around on some different practice squads for a little bit. He’s a guy to look at for a possibility in the future.”
The Vikings added rookie guard Jordan McCray to their practice squad, which had an open spot after the loss of cornerback Chris Greenwood to the Ravens.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd returned to practice Wednesday after missing Sunday’s game at Detroit. He has been battling a knee injury that halted his progress. The second-year pro was thriving as a pass rusher and run disrupter.
“Frustration is an understatement for the past few weeks,” Floyd said. “But what can I do? My body is what keeps me going and when it tells me to stop, sometimes you’ve just got to listen.”
Tight end Kyle Rudolph (ankle and knee) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (illness) missed practice, joining injured starters in outside linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), safety Robert Blanton (ankle and knee) and left guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) on the sideline.