StaTuesday: Vikings making plays on third down

Despite their struggles against the Carolina Panthers, the Minnesota Vikings remain one of the league’s best teams on third down.

On both sides of the ball.

With three regular-season games to go, the Vikings’ offense ranks second in the league in third-down efficiency — they’ve converted 81 of their 176 attempts — at 46 percent, behind only the Atlanta Falcons. Last season, they converted on just 81 third downs all year, finishing tied for 18th.

On the other side of the ball, no one has been better.

The Vikings’ defense has allowed a league-leading 45 third-down conversions this year, a rate of just 27.8 percent. The Denver Broncos are their closest competitor at 29.7 percent, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles at 30.2 percent.

Let’s take a closer look at those numbers.

THIRD DOWN OFFENSE

Yards to go Rushes YPC 1st downs %
1-2 10 3.9 8 80
3-5 2 3 1 50
6-10 6 7.83 2 33.33
11-15 3 3.67 0 0
16+ 3 5.67 0 0

Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are getting it done on in short-yardage situations, and picking up extra yardage along the way. They’re averaging 6.17 yards per carry from 1-2 yards out, the only scenario in which the Vikings reliably opt to run the ball on third down.

Despite Murray’s stature — at 6-foot-3, he seems like a stronger candidate to grind his way to a first down — McKinnon has out-touched him on third-down.

The 5-foot-9 back has run the ball 11 times on third down, picking up five first downs and averaging 4.2 yards a carry, while Murray has converted five times and averaged 4.1 yards on seven attempts. Keenum has kept the ball seven times in such scenarios, picking up four first downs.

Yards to go Passes YPA 1st downs %
1-2 21 7.29 15 71.43
3-5 51 6.86 30 58.82
6-10 56 4.54 19 33.93
11-15 17 6.06 5 29.41
16+ 8 7 1 12.5

Keenum has been reliable from as many as five yards out, but third-and-long has been unkind to the Vikings all season.

THIRD-DOWN DEFENSE

Yards to go Rushes YPC 1st downs %
1-2 12 6.17 8 66.67
3-5 1 3 0 0
6-10 5 9 1 20
11-15 2 -1 0 0
16+ 2 6.5 0 0

Similar data reveals that while the defense shines in most third-down scenarios, they’ve struggled to stop the run up close.

The Vikings defense has faced 12 rushing plays on third down from 1-2 yards out, stopping just four of them while allowing 6.17 yards per carry.

Yards to go Passes YPA 1st downs %
1-2 14 1.07 5 35.71
3-5 37 4.32 13 35.14
6-10 63 2.25 12 19.05
11-15 20 9.15 6 30
16+ 7 10.71 2 28.57

Conversely, they’ve given up just five conversions on third-down passing attempts from that distance.

If the Vikings’ third-down defense holds steady and their offense can surpass the Falcons, they’d become the first team since 1991 to finish with the NFL’s best third-down percentage on both side of the ball.