The last time the Vikings had two players compile double-digit sacks in the same season was in 2004, when Lance Johnstone and Kevin Williams both topped the 10-sack plateau that is the measure of elite pass rushers in the NFL. It's the stat that gets defensive linemen paid handsomely, especially if they can string seasons like that together.
With two games remaining in the 2013 season, Jared Allen and Brian Robison are looking to be the first defensive line tandem in a decade for the Vikings to hit double digits. Both have nine sacks and are hoping to both get over the 10-sack benchmark. Theirs is a relationship based on friendly competition. There isn't jealousy in their personal battles. They cheer each other on and the competition, they are convinced, has made both of them better players.
"It helps us a lot," Robison said. "That's the thing that has made us such a good tandem in the league – being able to compete with each other and use it as a positive and not get upset when one or the other gets a sack. We just go out and compete every day. That kind of camaraderie and that type of competition breeds success."
Until this season, that competition was always skewed in Allen's direction. He's been a double-digit sack guy every season with the Vikings, while Robison has posted seasons of 8, 8.5 and 9 sacks over the last three seasons, with his career high coming in the first 14 games of the 2013 season.
Allen agrees that the competition has made them both better, but he has found himself chasing Robison neck and neck this year, something that has helped him dial up his intensity in the home stretch of the season.
"He keeps getting sacks so I've got to match him," Allen said with a chuckle. "He's getting better and better, and, like I've said all along, he has great potential. He really does. He can be a 15-sack guy. He plays the front side so sometimes what could be a sack, they can actually see. So it's kind of the curse of playing that front side for most quarterbacks."
The competitive nature of both of them began when each was drafted. Both were fourth-round picks who felt a bit disrespected for being passed up by so many teams before finally finding a landing spot. It has served as motivation for both to elevate their level of play and never forget that they weren't viewed as elite pass rushers coming out of college. While the competition can get a little into the line of one-upping the other, it is still couched in terms of what's best for the team and letting the weekly individual numbers fall where they may.
"We just want to go out there and be the best defensive ends on the field," Robison said. "Each of us personally wants to be better than the other. It's just one of those deals where we're happy for each other when good things happen and compete."
Robison has molded some of his game after Allen's approach, just as Allen did when he joined the league and followed in the footsteps of Kansas City sack master Derrick Thomas. Although their styles and body types are different, they share a lot of the same techniques, some elements of which Robison confessed he has stolen from Allen and added to his own arsenal of pass rush moves.
"We are two different rushers," Robison said. "He's a little longer than I am, so he's able to do things with his arms that I'm not necessarily going to be able to use in my repertoire. But I've definitely used a lot of things that have worked for him that I've tried to use."
The Vikings raised some eyebrows at the end of the 2010 season when they gave Robison, who was a backup to Ray Edwards at left defensive end, a long-term contract and allowed Edwards to leave via free agency. The organization was confident that Robison could not only get the job done but exceed the production Edwards had provided. Edwards was capable of huge games, but his production was sporadic – he ran hot and cold. Allen thinks the advantage the two of them have as a D-line tandem is both can cause problems in the offensive backfield, both as pass rushers and in the run game, and that they've developed into a dynamic duo.
"Just having him, knowing that he's capable of big games, knowing that he's capable of lots of production when he plays the game, and I think where his game has really gone up too is just his consistency of being productive in other areas," Allen said. "You know, batting balls down, tackles and that kind of stuff. He's an explosive player. Just having that around, knowing that there's a guy on the other end that can beat you to the ball, you've got to step your game up."
When asked about the prospect of being at the end of the line as teammates, which has been the growing speculation as the 2013 season has progressed, Robison declined to answer a question about the two of them potentially playing their last two games together to close out the year, but he did say that, regardless of what happens at the end of this season, he considers Allen and Kevin Williams to be like brothers and, if one or both are gone next year, it will put the personal side into the business of football.
"Having him and Kevin around has meant so much to me and having them around, not only as teammates but as friends, has meant a lot to me," Robison said. "It's going to be a sad day at the end of the season. I don't want to see him go. I've been together with Kevin for seven years and Jared for six years. There are not a whole lot of people other than family and friends you've known forever that you've spent that much time with. During the season, we're around each other more than we are our families, so technically they're like a second family."
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.
Robison, Allen slugging out sack competition
Viking Update Top Stories
Vikings sign 3 to practice squad, release 3The Minnesota Vikings shook up their practice squad on Tuesday, signing three – including an offensive lineman – and releasing three.
Viking Update1:34 PM
Long: No excusesJake Long was only on the field for 13 plays Sunday at Philadelphia, but two of those resulted in turnovers that cost the Minnesota Vikings offense from putting up points. On…
Viking Update12:55 PM
Did rotating tackles affect Vikings?The Minnesota Vikings took the unusual step of rotating their offensive tackles in the first half of Sunday’s loss. Did that affect their performance? Alex Boone reacted to that,…
Viking Update12:42 PM
Cutler’s back, drawing angry Vikings defenseThe Bears announced Monday that, in the midst of Chicago’s World Series frenzy, local goat Jay Cutler will be making his return to playing action. How will it go? The Minnesota…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 10:02 PM