The Vikings are 7-3 with a defense that ranks ninth overall, fifth in third-down conversions and third in scoring.
But when it comes to takeaways, only four teams have fewer than the Vikings’ modest total of 11.
What’s up with that, you ask? Well, there is a satisfactory explanation that coach Mike Zimmer offered on Wednesday.
“Yeah, that’s probably as much my fault as anything,” Zimmer said. “We stress fundamentals and those things. I wouldn’t say we’re a gambling football team. I think throughout my career, we’ve been about middle of the pack [in takeaways] most of the time. We’ve never been real, real great.”
Through four games, the Vikings had eight takeaways, at least one in each game and went 2-2. In six games since then, they’ve had three takeaways, four games with none and gone 5-1.
“We just have to keep working on [takeaways], keep stressing it,” Zimmer said.
But only within a fundamental framework that won’t risk the big play for the big pick.
“It’s just my philosophy, really,” Zimmer said. “I know the more turnovers you get the more opportunities your offense has to score and things like that. But I’ve never wanted to be a team that, ‘Hey, I’m going to jump this …’ It’s more because I think you can give up a lot of big plays that way as well. I’d rather get [turnovers] being fundamentally sound, I guess is what I’m saying.”
This would seem to be a good week for the Vikings to increase their takeaways. Or, depending on your viewpoint, a good week for Atlanta to decrease its giveaways when it plays host to the Vikings.
The Falcons were one of the NFL’s surprise teams when they started the season 5-0. Their turnover ratio was plus-5 and all was right under new coach Dan Quinn.
But Atlanta’s season did a U-turn five games ago. The Falcons are 1-4 and riding a three-game losing streak. Their turnover differential the past five games: minus-6.
“I think it comes down to us, and us taking care of the ball the way we’re capable of,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan told the Twin Cities media on Wednesday. “Obviously the number one statistic in this league is turnover differential. We’ve moved the ball really well and done a lot of good things on offense, but we’ve turned it over too much.”
In their past five games, the Falcons have lost to four teams with a losing record — giving up 31 points off turnovers — and beaten only a 2-8 Titans team quarterbacked by Zach Mettenberger, 10-7. During its current three-game losing streak, Atlanta has lost to the Buccaneers, 49ers and Colts by a combined seven points.
In the past five games, Atlanta has fumbled 10 times, losing seven, and thrown six interceptions. The Falcons led the Colts by two touchdowns twice, but Ryan threw a pick-six and was intercepted in the red zone.
Against Tampa Bay, the Falcons fumbled at their own 6 as well as the Tampa Bay 4- and 20-yard lines. In a 31-21 loss to the Saints, they fumbled five times and lost three of them.
The Vikings are plus-1 in turnover differential because their 10 giveaways are tied for fifth fewest in the league. As for takeaways, 11 are the fewest by any team in the top 17 in turnover differential.
Only the Cowboys (seven), 49ers (eight), Chargers (nine) and Ravens (nine) have fewer takeaways. The Dolphins, Bears and Lions also have 11.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has more giveaways than all but one team (Philadelphia) in the top 20 in turnover margin.
“It is a huge factor for us, and the disappointing part is that we know we can get better at it, but we haven’t yet,” Quinn said. “So we’re anticipating a big improvement in that neighborhood.”
With the Falcons continue to giveth? Will the Vikings continue to not taketh away? The answer could help shape the NFC playoff race.