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Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


270204211

How unusual was Saturday's stellar red-zone play? Let us count the ways

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 25th at 6:52am 272486651

How unusual was it was to witness with our very own eyes the Minnesota Vikings making not one, but two game-altering defensive plays in the red zone during Saturday night’s 30-12 preseason victory at Kansas City?

Well, let’s rewind to last season to answer that one.

According to official NFL statistical data, only the historically putrid Dallas Cowboys defense gave up more red zone touchdowns (40) than the Vikings did (39) in 2013. From a percentage standpoint, the Vikings allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 61.9 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line a year ago. That was seventh-worst in the league and third-worst in the NFC.

Saturday night, the Chiefs moved the ball inside the 20 three times against the Vikings’ first-team defense in the first half. They scored ZERO touchdowns and one field goal while throwing two interceptions.

The first interception came on first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. And the guy who made the play, Captain Munnerlyn, actually baited the quarterback, the normally ball-secure Alex Smith, into throwing the ill-advised pass. Munnerlyn gave Smith a false sense of an open window and then jumped the route with an instinctive flash that we never saw his predecessor — Chris Cook — make during four interception-free seasons.

It wasn’t a third-down play, but, hey, the Vikings also need some work on their first-down pass defense. A year ago, teams completed 67.1 percent of their first-down passes against the Vikings. That was fourth-worst in the league.

Later in Saturday’s first half, linebacker Chad Greenway read Smith’s eyes, sat on a route and caught a ball that was thrown right to him. That came on third-and-four at the Vikings’ 11. And if you assume that defenders always catch footballs thrown directly at them, then you haven’t been watching the Vikings in recent years.

A year ago, the Vikings were last in the league in pass completions allowed for first downs (15.4 per game). They also were 30th in third-down conversions allowed (44 percent).

Saturday night, Smith converted 3 of 7 third-down situations while attempting to pass. He completed passes of 18 and 11 yards, and had a 42-yard pass interference penalty on Josh Robinson. He also  was sacked once and threw an interception.

Overall, Chiefs quarterbacks converted 4 of 10 third downs while attempting passes. They were sacked twice and threw two picks on third downs.

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