Film shows Vikings judicious with the blitz

The Vikings have all kinds of blitz packages to throw at teams, but Mike Zimmer was conservative with them against the Rams. Will that continue against Tom Brady and the Patriots? We have the numbers, the situations in which they were used and comments from players and coaches about the blitz packages.

Mike Zimmer’s defense was certainly effective enough in a season-opening win against the St. Louis Rams and their second- and third-string quarterbacks, but that defense didn’t operate quite as expected.

Most believe backup quarterbacks get blitzed more often, but that wasn’t the case as the Minnesota Vikings confused the Rams in the 34-6 win last Sunday. To be sure, the Vikings showed blitz and pressure at the line of scrimmage often. Following through on that, however, wasn’t a staple of Zimmer’s defensive calls.

“Anybody can go out and blitz 55 out of 70 plays and look real good and win a bunch of ballgames, but there’s times when those things are working and you have to go back and rely on fundamental technique, being in the right position and hopefully we can do all those things before we try to trick people,” Zimmer said.

“It’s nice to blitz, it’s nice to sack the quarterback, it’s nice to rush with four, it’s nice to rush with three, but you have to have a foundation hopefully that you’ve laid. That’s what we’re trying to do here is lay a foundation where if we want to blitz, when we want to blitz, if we don’t want to blitz we don’t have to.”

That could be the key to Zimmer’s defense. They didn’t have to blitz the Rams to get pressure. In fact, more often than not the Vikings backed away from their stacked line and rushed four and they still ended up with five sacks, tied for first in the league after one week of play.

“The thing about this defense is we give them so many different looks that a lot of times I don’t think they know what’s coming,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “If we can keep that up for 16 games, keeping offenses off-balance and not knowing what’s coming at them, whether we’re dropping out or we’re blitzing, if we can keep doing that, then that’s going to keep us successful in the long run.”

At this early stage, Zimmer, who made the defensive calls on Sunday, has a bit of the element of surprise. Opposing coaches know how he operates from his extensive defensive coordinator days with the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys, but they don’t have a full portfolio of how he will use his current personnel with the Vikings.

Players and practice observers expected an aggressive approach, but that didn’t translate to incessant blitzing in the season opener. The Vikings still showed the threat of the blitz often against the Rams, but they backed off more than they followed through.

“It’s awesome. They don’t know where we’re going to be,” said defensive end Everson Griffen, who had two sacks on Sunday. “We could be on the right, we could be on the left. It shows how much talent we have on this team and how they’re going to use us within the scheme.”

While the assumption was that the Vikings would blitz a lot, Zimmer realized he didn’t need to do that to win in St. Louis. In the 41 dropbacks for the Rams’ quarterbacks, the Vikings blitzed only 10 times, sending five rushers six times, six rushers three times and seven rushers on one third-down occasion.

And it wasn’t just third-down situations when the Vikings blitzed. Four of them came on first down, two on second down and four on third down.

“The bottom line is he’s going to throw so many different looks at them that even if our pass rush is hot, for that team to be able to make changes throughout the game and be able to shore up those guys that you throw a blitz in there every once in a while, it helps our front to be able to alleviate some of the stress,” Robison said. “I think he did a great job calling the plays (against the Rams). I think it was about right on point with what we thought it was going to be.”

The Vikings also backed off the blitz as the game went on. They blitzed only twice in the fourth quarter, with the final one producing Harrison Smith’s 81-yard interception return for a touchdown as linebacker Anthony Barr drilled Austin Davis. The Rams’ last seven dropbacks were approached with four-man rushes.

“We backed it down when the score got out of hand,” Zimmer said. “I know they got some yards there at the end but I think we could have hit them a few more times if we tried. It was more about the clock was our friend at that point in time. I like our blitz package and what we do out of it. It’ll vary week-to-week from what we do just based on who we’re playing.”

Zimmer said the quarterback they were facing didn’t matter, but it will be interesting to see how he approaches a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Tom Brady on Sunday. Zimmer’s defensive linemen certainly would like to get to Brady.

“You always want to sack one of the greats,” Griffen said. “He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame. He’s a great quarterback and you’ve just got to go out there and execute our job like we did this past week and to a high level next week. We’ve just got to keep on building and keep on getting better each and every week. This can’t be our pedestal. Our pedestal has to be up here. We’ve got to reach for the sky, baby.”

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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