In the initial stages of the Vikings' offensive preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles, the team quickly learned one thing – they will need to be prepared for Eagles blitzes.
For years under defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, the Eagles dialed up blitzes early and often. Many games saw the Eagles D blitz on more plays than it didn't. With the Vikings expected to give rookie Joe Webb his first career start, it's easy to assume the Eagles defense is going to be like a school of piranhas ready to attack.
While the Eagles don't blitz as often as they have in previous seasons, they remain just as effective. The Vikings' front line, especially rookie Chris DeGeare, who will be making just his third career start, is expecting a steady dose of extra defenders running through the zone. As such, the Vikings have a plan in place to try to limit the effectiveness.
"The big thing for us will be picking up on the little keys, little tips that give a key to when they're going to blitz," DeGeare said. "We had a pretty good bead when Chicago was going to be coming with blitzes, hopefully we can do the same this week. The one thing we're pretty sure of is that they'll be dialing them up and coming."
Although the blitz numbers and percentages are down from their frenetic peak of a couple years back, the Vikings O-line is expecting a full-blown frontal assault from the Eagles.
"It's a similar mantra for them this year," Cook said. "They aren't blitzing as much as they have in the past, but I expect them to with Joe (Webb) back there. They're going to give him multiple looks and try to confuse him – it's what you do to a rookie quarterback. That's my guess. For us, we just have to stay on track, focus and control what we can control and take advantage of the certain opportunities that will be present themselves."
Being able to successfully disguise their blitzes is the key to the Eagles' defensive success. Opposing offenses know the blitzes are coming, but where they're coming from is the question. Lorenzo Booker practiced against the Eagles defense for a year and said deception is the key to blitzing and the Eagles have a knack for it.
"I think that's the biggest thing with most defenses," Booker said. "On offense, you might have one play, but there are a bunch of different ways to run it. They do that on defense. They do a good job of disguising it. They like to bring the same kind of pressure, but it's just about us trying to decipher the way they're trying to hide it. You've got to get some keys, stick to the keys and stay to (what you've seen on) the film. You have to be able to pick up on the specific tendencies they have when they're bringing those kinds of blitzes. If you can't, you're going to be in trouble all day."
The Vikings have been searching to find a method to the defensive madness and tackle Phil Loadholt said the line trusts the job that center John Sullivan has been doing and will do against Philadelphia, trying to identify where added pressure is likely to come from.
"It makes a little more difficult, but Sullivan does a great job of recognizing things," Loadholt said. "As long as we get up to the line and listen to him and also having ourselves prepared, we'll be able to handle it. When you pick up those blitzes, you put pressure on those other guys to keep up from making a play. Blitzing works both ways. If we can pick it up and slow it down, we have the chance to make big plays on the back end."
Getting those big plays will likely have to come on slants and screens. For seven years, Lito Sheppard was on the back end of the Eagles defense singled up with a receiver and expected to prevent him from making a play. He admits he's on an island one-on-one with a receiver bent on making the defense pay for their aggression, but said it isn't as bad at is may seem.
"People say that – ‘you're out on an island' – but it's a controlled island," Sheppard said. "When you're bringing a blitz, the timing of the play speeds up a lot. The quarterback just doesn't have the time he wants to make a play that will take any time to develop. The receivers can only run a couple of different routes and we know that. If the blitz get stopped, then receivers have a chance to make plays, but the Eagles usually pick their spots when they're pretty certain the quarterback isn't going to have any time and may have to force a throw quicker than he wants to. That's when it gets fun for (a cornerback)."
DeGeare said the preparation this week has focused on trying to determine what blitz look is real and what isn't. Some teams just stack the line and come with the blitz. The Eagles drop out of blitz looks and bring a blitz from the outside or with safeties. DeGeare said, given his lack of experience, he has been targeted by the Philly defensive decision-makers.
"They are very good at disguising what they do," DeGeare said. "Their defense has built a reputation for blitzing and we know that they're going to try to rattle Joe. Any time you have a young quarterback in there, other teams are going to bring their blitz packages. They may think the same about coming at me with them because I'm a rookie and I'm replacing a Hall of Famer at left guard. I'm expecting them to come at me a lot and I'm doing my best to get prepared for it."
The onslaught is coming. If isn't a matter of if it's coming, it's a matter of how often. Booker said it is a difficult scheme to play against, but, if the Vikings remain unified in how to sustain the barrage, they can succeed against it.
"That's going to be the biggest thing – is all of us seeing what is coming and being on the same page," Booker said. "If Joe sees something or the line sees something or I see something, we need to communicate that. If we're all on the same page, whether we're 100 percent right or 80 percent right, our chances of succeeding are pretty high. It's an issue if the line is on one page and the quarterback and the running back are on another. You want to make sure whatever calls are made are transparent all the way through. When you're playing a team like that you have to be working as one, not freelancing or having different ideas going at the same time. If we can all stay on the same page, we will be able to neutralize what they have planned."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings prepping for blitz-heavy attack
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