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Vikings offense eager to catch up with elite defense

MINNEAPOLIS--How good is the Vikings' defense? Well, ask their offense. Minnesota's offensive players have to play against the defense regularly in practice. Come game day, they finally can turn into fans. "Our defense is unreal," wide receiver C...

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph (98) dives to tackle Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph (98) dives to tackle Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS-How good is the Vikings' defense? Well, ask their offense.

Minnesota's offensive players have to play against the defense regularly in practice. Come game day, they finally can turn into fans.

"Our defense is unreal," wide receiver Charles Johnson, a four-year veteran, said Tuesday. "It's one of the best I've seen since I've been been in the league. I mean, they're the backbone of our team."

The Vikings sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton eight times in Sunday's 22-10 victory at Carolina. Among those enjoying it from the sideline was Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, also a four-year veteran.

"Lights out," he said. "Eight sacks is the most I've seen since I've been in the league. I love our defense. They're helping us out tremendously."

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The defense is the primary reason the Vikings enter Monday night's game against the New York Giants unbeaten in three games. That's taking pressure off an offense already devastated by injuries; gone are starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (knee), starting running back Adrian Peterson (knee) and starting left tackle Matt Kalil (hip).

All have been placed on injured reserve. Bridgewater won't be coming back, Kalil likely won't be coming back and Peterson has an outside chance of returning in December. Yet the Vikings are one of five 3-0 teams in the NFL.

Sam Bradford, acquired Sept. 3 from Philadelphia, took over at quarterback in Week 2 and has been solid, but the Vikings are ranked 31st in the NFL out of 32 teams in total offense as they prepare for the first Monday night game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are No. 6 in total defense and No. 3 in points allowed. Patterson says that doesn't tell the entire story.

"I'm going to say they're No. 1," he said. "I'm not going to say they're anywhere else."

The Vikings lead the NFL with 15 sacks, three ahead of No. 2 Denver. Everson Griffen has four, and fellow defensive linemen Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph each have three.

Minnesota is second in the NFL with nine takeaways and leads with a plus-eight turnover differential. The Vikings are tied for second in the league with five interceptions from Trae Waynes (2), Terence Newman, Eric Kendricks and Tom Johnson.

The Vikings are tied for 20th in the NFL in points per game at 21.3. Take away 22 points that have been provided by the defense (two touchdowns, one safety, one extra point) and special teams (one touchdown, one extra point) and they would be tied for last at 14.

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"If you want to score fantasy points, those guys (on defense) know how to get to the ball," Johnson said.

Still, Johnson said, the Vikings must step it up on offense so the defense isn't on the field too much. On a hot day at Carolina, the Panthers had a time of possession advantage of 34:52 to 25:08, and two Vikings defensive players had to be treated for cramps late in the game.

"We're leaving them out there a little too long," Johnson said.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph agreed. Minnesota's offense has yet to score a point in the first quarter.

"We've just got to start quicker," Rudolph said. "That's us as an offense, us as players going out there and making plays. ... Against Carolina, we didn't make many first downs in the first half, and it's hard when you're not sustaining drives."

It's less difficult, though, when a team has a top-notch defense. The Vikings are undefeated despite having been outgained by an average of 29.7 yards per game.

"Our defense is phenomenal," said T.J. Clemmings, who has taken over from Kalil at left tackle. "We know they're good, but we definitely want to make sure we're doing our job."

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