A typical "key matchup" segment deals with players that line up directly opposite one another – a center vs. a nose tackle, a wide receiver vs. a cornerback, a running back vs. a middle linebacker, etc. But, as fans are well aware, the Denver Broncos aren't a typical football team, which is why the ongoing battle between Jared Allen and Tim Tebow is this week's unorthodox matchup to watch.
The Vikings have faced running quarterbacks before, but never like Tebow, who runs a variant of the triple-option offense, which is where Allen comes into critical focus. To start with, Tebow is left-handed, which means he will spend most of the game facing Allen instead of the typical Allen-as-blind-side rushing defensive end. As a result of being left-handed, most of the option plays the Broncos run will be in Allen's direction and he will be key to the decision-making process of the Denver offense.
One thing Vikings fans know about Allen is that he is relentless in pursuit. He goes after the quarterback and takes one of two approaches – he either tries to speed rush around the offensive left tackle or crashes inside to try to force the quarterback out of the pocket. With a standard pocket passer, both approaches are successful. Tebow is anything but a pocket passer.
As hard as it may be to believe, the impetus of the Denver offense isn't predicated by the play called in the huddle. It can be determined by what the right defensive end (in this case Allen) does at the snap. It can be argued that Allen will have almost as much of an impact on the Denver offense as Tebow.
The key to an option rushing attack is where the defensive end goes once the ball is snapped. If Allen tries to speed rush around the left tackle, Tebow is instructed to cut the ball up inside and keep it himself – running into the hole vacated by the pass-rushing end. If Allen crashes inside, Tebow is taught to pitch the ball to his running back and attacking the zone in which Allen initially lined up.
Defenses have made some drastic changes in how they have approached the unique Denver offense. The San Diego Chargers, for example, went almost exclusively with a three-man rush and, on more plays than not, didn't rush any of them – instead having them stand upright after contact with the offensive linemen, hold their positions and reacting to what Tebow was doing in the run game. It didn't translate into a victory, but it stymied Tebow for three quarters before a late explosion led the Broncos to a road win.
It isn't in Allen's nature to stand still after the snap. When he moves forward, he does so with reckless abandon and, as a general rule the Vikings maintain they don't change what they do to tailor their scheme to a specific opponent. If that's the case, expect to see Allen coming full steam ahead and the Broncos trying to take advantage of his aggression. The extent to which Allen can blow up plays and force Tebow into making decisions that will put his offense at risk will go a long way to the Vikings snapping Denver's four-game winning streak, making this an unusual, but compelling key matchup.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Key matchup: Allen's reaction to the action
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