A year after leading the league in both scoring defense and yards against, the Vikings aren’t going to repeat either title in 2018. They rank third in the NFL in yards allowed, with 362 more than the league-leading Ravens, and their 317 points allowed are the seventh-fewest in the NFL, with the Vikings trailing Baltimore by 54 points in that category.
But at least in terms of the scoring rankings, the Vikings’ drop from first to seventh can’t be pinned entirely on the defense.
A year ago, the Vikings allowed just 23 offensive touchdowns, which was the fewest in the league. Though they’ve given up two more through 15 games this season, the 25 they’ve allowed are still the fewest in the league, in a year where scoring has spiked.
The main reason the Vikings aren’t at the very top of the scoring rankings once again is because of how many scores they’ve allowed on either defensive or special teams returns. The five fumbles or interceptions the Vikings have had returned for touchdowns this season is the most in the league, and the team also had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in Week 2 against Green Bay.
All told, the Vikings have allowed 31 touchdowns, which is still tied with the Cowboys for the fourth-fewest in the league, but it’s easy to wonder how different their record might look if not for the defensive and special teams scores they’ve allowed. Four of the six have come in games they’ve lost or tied (against the Packers, Saints Bears and Seahawks), and the fumbles quarterback Kirk Cousins lost against the Bills and Rams also played significant roles in the final outcome of those two defeats.
The Vikings haven’t ranked outside the top 10 in the league in turnovers in coach Mike Zimmer’s first four seasons; they’re 14th this season, having turned the ball over on 11,2 percent of their drives. That change, perhaps more than any other, fueled the unrest that ultimately resulted in offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s ouster earlier this month. If the Vikings want to make any kind of a run in the playoffs, they’ll have to avoid directly handing points to their opponents — starting with the one they’ll face on Sunday.
Even though the Bears could be without safety Eddie Jackson, who returned an Cousins interception for a touchdown on Nov. 18 in Chicago, they lead the league with 36 takeaways. It’s entirely possible the Vikings could have to win two straight games against the Bears, in Minneapolis and Chicago, to stretch their season beyond the first round of the playoffs. For that to happen, their newfound bugaboo will have to be put away.