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Vikings' defense aiming for elite season after hype fizzled in 2016

Minnesota was third in total defense but they struggled in the red zone and against the run.

The Vikings finished third in total defense and sixth in scoring defense last season. Those numbers would've been far better had the defense lived up to the hype it generated the first five weeks of the season. 

Things went south following a bye in Week 6, losing eight of the final 11 games while surrendering an average of 22 points per game. They allowed just over 12 points per game during the 5-0 start. 

"There's a lot of areas [for improvement]," safety Harrison Smith told NFL Network's Steve Mariucci at training camp on Friday. "Red zone, two-minute... the situations are a big place for improvement this year. Yards per carry, when we get chances to make interceptions and force fumbles – capitalize on those things because we don't want to be third, we want to be first." 

In 2015, the Vikings ranked fifth in red zone touchdown percentage by allowing only 46.5% of trips inside the red zone to end in a touchdown. That number jumped to 54.5% in 2016, good for 14th in the league. 

Linebacker Eric Kendricks says improvement comes down to better communication. 

"It always starts with communication," Kendricks told Mariucci. "Now that we're familiar with the defense we can kind of play with it. If everyone's on the same page, we're communicating well, we're flying to the ball, good things happen."

Minnesota's best defense last season was against the pass, where it ranked third in the NFL at 207.9 yards per game. The rushing defense was a different story, finishing 19th with an average of 106.9 yards per game allowed. 

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