The Vikings' pass rush has been inconsistent – four sacks each in two of the last four games but little pressure on Sunday – despite the highest paid player on the team being defensive end Jared Allen.
Allen leads the team with 9.5 sacks, but that's only tied for 20th in the NFL – as a team, the Vikings are 18th with only 36 sacks. The two biggest issues are inconsistency in the sacks and getting them from players other than Allen and Brian Robison.
The issue came to the forefront Sunday in Cincinnati when the Vikings didn't register a sack of Bengals QB Andy Dalton until the fourth quarter, and hardly pressured him in the pocket.
"We haven't been as consistent rushing the passer as we have been in the past. That definitely affects what we're trying to do schematically, without question," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "A lot of what we do revolves around being able to rush with four (defenders). We haven't had that consistent rush that we've had in years past and it definitely affects what we're trying to do."
Getting pressure with their four defensive linemen is especially important in the Vikings' Cover-2 base defense.
Last week, the Vikings seemed to foretell how it would go Sunday, well aware of Dalton's quick release. Dalton completed 27 of 38 passes for 366 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 136.5 rating.
His total of 15 touchdown passes in his last four home games is a team record, breaking Boomer Esiason's 1989 four-game stretch of 13 touchdown passes.
The Bengals had especially good success on third down, converting 8 of 14 third downs after the Philadelphia Eagles converted 7 of 14 against the Vikings the previous week. Dalton simply found the soft spots in the Vikings' zone defense and delivered it to his many receivers there on time.
"If you're playing two-deep, it's a combination of the rush and the coverage, and if you don't get the rush, it's going to affect the coverage on that particular coverage, Cover-2," Frazier said. "So there were times when we were in man on third down, times when we were in zone, times when we were bringing pressure, just a mix of the three for the most part throughout the day, trying to combine a rush with coverage, whether we're bringing five sometimes or six, just trying to mix it up."
The Vikings didn't bring an extra rusher very often, however. Of the 39 times Dalton dropped to pass (including one scramble), the Vikings rushed four defenders 27 times and rushed three once. They brought five pass rushers on eight downs and six rushers three times.
Against the Eagles at the Metrodome the previous week, the Vikings got two sacks each from Allen and fellow defensive end Robison. But Allen would have to register at least a half sack Sunday against the Detroit Lions to extend his streak of six straight seasons with double-digit sacks – highlighted by a 22-sack campaign in 2011 that nearly set the NFL single-season record.
"Yesterday they did a good job of chipping out, just keeping another guy in, whether it was a back or tight end, and trying to keep our ends from affecting the game. We get that sometimes," Frazier said. "There's some things that we can do to try and alter that, but it definitely makes a difference when you can keep our two ends at bay. And they did a good job of keeping us from being able to rush with our four and making us have to add another guy, which puts a little bit more pressure on your secondary. Now, you're not quite as stout in the secondary as you'd like to be and you're putting some guys in one-on-one situations that you don't necessarily want in one-on-one situations."
The Vikings are 29th in sacks per pass play, 26th in the percentage of passes intercepted, 31st in first downs per game and 31st in third-down efficiency.
With Jared Allen easily leading the team with a $17.1 million salary-cap number – $3.2 million higher than Adrian Peterson – and Brian Robison signing a four-year extension in October that could be worth up to $7 million per season, the Vikings have a lot of money invested in their defensive ends.
Robison and Allen's combined 18.5 sacks have led the Vikings to their 36 sacks on the season, but that is only 18th in the league. Everson Griffen, who is a pending free agent, is third with 4.5 after getting 1.5 on Sunday.
"Everson did some good things at times. We'd like to get more push up the middle when he's an inside rusher in third-down situations," Frazier said.
There are numerous reasons why the Vikings have struggled on defense – the secondary likely being at the top of the chart – but an inconsistent pass rush with only six sacks coming from the defensive tackles is a contributing factor.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings inconsistent with pressure on QB
Viking Update Top Stories
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
Notebook: Problems extended beyond pass proThe Minnesota Vikings had obvious problems with pass protection, but there are other areas head coach Mike Zimmer is addressing, too.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:41 PM
Vikings will look at ‘all options’ to improveComing off a loss that Mike Zimmer termed “embarrassing,” a 21-10 defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings will look at all options to rectify the situation.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 2:42 PM
VIDEO: Zimmer: 'This is a gut-check day'Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer recapped the first loss of the season by pointing out "several dumb things" he found to be uncharacteristic of his team.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 1:06 PM