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Week 13 Patriots vs Vikings advanced stats: Minnesota’s defense is terrific on third downs and in the red zone

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A look at the stats ahead of Sunday’s meeting between the Patriots and Vikings.

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

After back-to-back road games, the New England Patriots return to Foxoboro on Sunday to face a Minnesota Vikings team that currently owns the fifth seed in the NFC’s playoff picture. The Vikings are coming off three straight divisional games — during which they went 2-1 — and will now go against a rather unfamiliar opponent. That being said, the game between two of last year’s final four should still be an entertaining affair.

Let’s analyze the matchup by taking a look at some of the advanced stats heading into the game (courtesy of SB Nation’s Bill Connelly; for his methodology please click here).

Patriots offense vs Vikings defense

Normal down and distance in the open field

Patriots offense (l.) vs Vikings defense (r.)

While most of the Patriots’ statistics in the open field (defined as the space between the offense’s 10-yards line and the opponent’s 30) did not change too much last week, one did: big-play rate, the percentage of plays going for more than 20 yards. New England had 10 of them against the New York Jets in week 12, but the question is whether or not the performance was an outlier. A Vikings defense that gives up big gains on 6.6% of open field plays — as opposed to the Jets’ 20th ranked 7.5% — should provide an answer.

Backed Up Situations Near the Goal Line

Patriots offense (l.) vs Vikings defense (r.)

New England’s offensive performance with the back against the wall does not stand out in either category (the turnover percentage is still hurting from a tipped interception in week one). Meanwhile, Minnesota’s defense has a fairly impressive success rate — gaining 50% of necessary yardage on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth down — when being set up 90+ yards away from its own end zone.

Red Zone

Patriots offense (l.) vs Vikings defense (r.)

Despite going just 1-for-3 in the red zone last week, the Patriots’ overall performance in the red zone did not change much against the Jets: the team is good in certain areas but fairly inconsistent the closer it gets to the goal line. The Vikings, on the other hand, field one of the NFL’s best red zone defenses no matter the statistical category. Basically, Minnesota does everything well when it comes to defending the red area and it will be imperative for New England to find success in this part of the field — whether by giving more red zone targets to bigger weapons like Rob Gronkowski or Josh Gordon, or by relying on the familiar formula that is playing smash-mouth football with Sony Michel.

Third Downs

Patriots offense (l.) vs Vikings defense (r.)

As impressive as the Vikings defense is in the red zone, it is equally productive when it comes to stopping third downs. The group allows just 27.6% of attempts to be converted — the best number in the league — and as can be seen above, the distance does not matter: Minnesota is good no matter how much yards it needs to defend on third down. New England is also solid in this area despite obvious issues in third-and-medium situations. Still, third downs project to be a key battle between the Patriots offense and Vikings defense on Sunday.

Blitz Situations

Patriots offense (l.) vs Vikings defense (r.)

The Patriots’ offensive numbers on so-called blitz downs — 1st and 18 or more, 2nd and 14 or more, and 3rd and 3 or more — remain rather mediocre after not changing much since last week. Meanwhile, the Vikings defense is strong in this area as well. No matter if it is success rate, big plays or sacks, the unit produces when having the offense in passing situations.

Patriots defense vs Vikings offense

Normal down and distance in the open field

Patriots defense (l.) vs Vikings offense (r.)

Compared to last week, the Patriots defense improved a bit in the open field but is still a middle-of-the-pack unit between the opponent’s 10-yard line and its own 30. Speaking of middle-of-the-pack: the Vikings offense. The unit does not stand out in any category and except one — third down success — is matched up rather evenly with New England.

Backed Up Situations Near the Goal Line

Patriots defense (l.) vs Vikings offense (r.)

New England’s defense and Minnesota’s offense also are statistical equals when it comes to backed-up situations. The Vikings are relatively successful when it comes to moving the football inside their own 10-yard line, but New England’s offense also fares well in this part of the field.

Red Zone

Patriots defense (l.) vs Vikings offense (r.)

The Patriots’ red zone defense improved a bit against the Jets and can be seen as a top-10 unit in the league, despite not registering a takeaway inside its own 30-yard line yet. Minnesota’s offense, on the other hand, has struggled in the red area and ranks in the bottom third of the league when it comes to success inside the 20. All in all, this matchup appears to favor New England’s defense — despite the Vikings having productive players like Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph on their roster.

Third Downs

Patriots defense (l.) vs Vikings offense (r.)

While the Vikings defense is one of the best in the NFL when it comes to third down play, the Patriots’ is one of the worst: with the exception of third-and-longs, Brian Flores’ unit — which gives up 43.1% of all third downs — is having a tough time getting off the field. Luckily for the group, Minnesota’s offense does not fare any better which is why this battle could be one of the deciding factors of Sunday’s game.

Blitz Situations

Patriots defense (l.) vs Vikings offense (r.)

While the Vikings offense is not impressive when in blitz situations, it is still better than the Patriots’ defense. While New England’s big play percentage improved a bit when compared to last week, the team still ranks below the average in all three blitz down categories: the defense gives up significant yardage even when it finds itself in situations that would normally favor it.


All in all, the battle between the Patriots and the Vikings appears to be a classic strength-vs-strength matchup: New England’s offense — one that finally appears to be back at full strength after dealing with multiple injuries over the first 10 weeks of the season — is one of the NFL’s best units when performing at its peak capabilities. Likewise, Minnesota’s defense finds itself in the top-10 in nearly every major statistical category.

Ultimately, the game might come down to which of the statistical weaknesses in the battle between the Patriots defense and Vikings offense will be overcome best. If New England can slow down Minnesota’s attack and does not force the offense to play from behind, the home team should come away victoriously.