The Minnesota Vikings are a defensively dominant organization – at least they have been for six years. But what the hell is a 21-point rule?
From 2011-2013, Minnesota employed a different defense-first coach named Leslie Frazier. He was the Vikings defensive coordinator before his ascension to the head-coaching level, and owners Mark and Zygi Wif sought to restore the franchise to defensive supremacy. It emphatically did not work.
Frazier’s defense during his three-year stint in Minnesota ranked third-to-last in the NFL via points allowed. The start of the decade was a turbulent and downright bad span of four seasons, and Minnesota parted ways with Frazier immediately following the 2013 campaign. The team finished 5-10-1 (.344), and it was time for a structural upheaval.
The Vikings plucked Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, out of Ohio to lead the purple and gold. Since then, Zimmer has generated the NFL’s second-best defense in points allowed, trailing only Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots.
Zimmer’s offenses are never fruitless, but this side of the ball never quite possesses the efficacy that the defense consistently upholds. It came close, though, in 2019 – the Vikings had their best offensive output via points scored since the 2009 season when the team made an appearance in the NFC Championship game.
Because of the stingy defense and decent-to-good offense, Mike Zimmer’s offense abides by a funny rule: Score 21 points, and that’s typically all she wrote for the oppostion.
The 21-Point Rule as U.S Bank Stadium is ironclad
The Vikings have scored 21 or more points at U.S. Bank Stadium on 20 occasions since the edifice opened in 2016. In those contests, Minnesota is undefeated, 20-0. That is, when the Vikings reach the 21-mark on the scoreboard, you can turn out the lights. The Vikings simply do not lose when this plateau is reached.
There have been scares, though. This neat-but-not-gospel stat was in jeopardy a handful times. Most notably, Minnesota nearly ruined this odd mark in the 2017 NFC Divisional playoff game versus the New Orleans Saints. But if you’re a Vikings fan, you know how that turned out.
More recently, Minnesota played embarrassingly in the first half of a Week 11 game against the Denver Broncos at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2019. It was not until the second-half that the team woke from slumber and orchestrated a comeback with a magnitude the franchise had not executed since 1985. Denver led Minnesota 20-0 at halftime, and the Vikings resurrected for a 27-23 dramatic rally and win.
Although most teams that get to the 21-mark at home are indeed successful, the Minnesota Vikings are the only undefeated team in this regard. The next-closest team in win percentage when scoring 21+ points at home is the Miami Dolphins – they are 17-2 (.895) with this quirky metric.
The Philosophy works on the road – most of the time
Mike Zimmer took over in 2014, and since then, the Vikings are 17-6-1 (.729) on the road in games that the team notched the 21-point total. With a 73 percent success rate, there is not much to fuss about in terms of performance.
Yet, Minnesota’s NFL ranking with this parameter falls to eighth-best in the business. What does this mean? When the Vikings score at least three touchdowns on the road (or an equivalence with field goals, for example), Zimmer’s bunch is better than 24 other teams.
Some memorable instances when the quasi-strategy failed include a 2019 loss at Seattle when Minnesota battled back admirably and a defeat in the same season to the Matt Moore-led Kansas City Chiefs. In both matchups, the Vikings topped the 21-point threshold and still found a way to lose.
What to make of all this
On the whole, the Vikings are the league’s second-best team when they score at least 21 points under Mike Zimmer. They boast a 46-7-1 (.861) record in all contests, home and away, when registering 21 or more points.
Again, the team that bests the Vikings in this parameter is the Patriots. In the same timeframe (since 2014), New England is 66-9 (.880) when they tabulate 21+ points in a given game.
If you happen to watch regular Patriots games when they’re not racking up Lombardi trophies and the “feel” and pace of the game is similar to a Vikings game, this is your answer. Belichick and Zimmer subscribe to a likeminded theory – get a lead and run out the clock.
Now, if only the Vikings can translate this likeness to February football, the two men might be collectively on to something.
If you’re looking for a punchline or takeaway, it is this: The Minnesota Vikings almost always win games when they score three touchdowns – and nearly elementary at home.