Vikings find an emphasis in rushing Rodgers

The Vikings are trying to get to Aaron Rodgers, but they don’t want to go rogue in doing so.

Former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress had a saying he used often: “Stay in your lane.”

In Childress’ vernacular, that meant that players should play, coaches coach and everyone should simply do their job and not worry about what others are doing.

This week, the saying might be similar, but the context and meaning are completely different. The Vikings will be in a rush to get to Aaron Rodgers, but there is another concentration against one of the NFL’s best passers.

Vikings defenders and coaches are stressing lane integrity while pass rushing all quarterbacks, but perhaps that emphasis is greatest against the Green Bay Packers quarterback. Sure, the Vikings would love to sack Rodgers as much as they can, but they don’t want to create escape avenues while going for the sack.

“The thing is with Rodgers you can’t just let him out of the pocket. He’s probably more dangerous outside the pocket than he is in the pocket,” Robison said. “We’ve just got to make sure we keep him in the pocket, but at the same time we can’t just be satisfied with having him in the cylinder. We’ve got to make sure that we get to him and get him on the ground when we have that opportunity.”

Rodgers has the second-highest passer rating in the NFL at 109.1 with nine touchdowns and only one interception, but he is tied for fifth-most sacks, at 10. His completion percentage is 12th at 66.2, but he’s seventh with a completion percentage of 53.8 while under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.

The emphasis from Zimmer has been to rush smarter.

“We have actually pressured OK; what we haven’t done is rush smart. We have to rush a lot smarter, and same thing with this quarterback. If we give him an opportunity to get out of the pocket a lot of times, a lot of bad things happen,” Zimmer said.

“We would have a lot more sacks just with our four-man rush if we would learn to rush as a team and not rush as individuals.”

Through four games, the Vikings have only eight sacks and three of those have come from the linebacker spot (Anthony Barr has two sacks) and one from the safety (Harrison Smith has that one). Defensive end Everson Griffen is tied with Barr and defensive tackle Tom Johnson for the team lead with two sacks each, while defensive tackle Linval Joseph has the other one.

Robison said the Vikings have missed out on a lot of sack opportunities.

“You can’t get caught up in sack numbers. Sack numbers never tell the whole story obviously. You can’t just be out there going through your own things and do your own thing. You’ve got to play for the guys that are next to you,” Robison said.

“I thought we’ve done well at times. I thought we haven’t done well at times. I think we’ve got to be more consistent in our pass rush and the only way we’re going to do that is learning how to work off of each other.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Everson Griffen has a 7.9 pass-rushing productivity rating and Brian Robison is at 7.4. That ranks them 13th and 18th, respectively, among 4-3 defensive ends. That statistic measures the number of sacks, hits and hurries against the number of times the player rushes the passer.

Griffen is credited with two sacks, three hits and seven hurries while Robison has no sacks, two hits and 10 hurries.

Zimmer would like to see the defensive line rush more as a group instead of individuals so they don’t leave lanes for the quarterback to escape. That’s where Rodgers is so dangerous. Defenders have gotten that message.

“It’s definitely more so with him just because of what he can do outside the pocket,” Robison said. “A lot of his big, explosive pass plays are him outside the pocket, him running around and being able to look downfield and make big plays. It’s definitely a big-time emphasis with him.

“If we have three guys rushing one way and another guy doing something different, it leaves an open lane for the quarterback to be able to escape. Whatever that is, we’ve just got to learn how to rush off of each other.”

And find Rodgers before he reaches his most dangerous level.

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