The Minnesota Vikings are hosting the San Diego Chargers this weekend and will be forced to play against their sometimes fast-paced offense, one that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer described as a muddle huddle. It can often create difficulties for a defense because it is harder to communicate and it’s harder to get rotational guys in and out when needed.
That’s one reason Zimmer wants the fan base to be loud at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. If they make their presence known when the Chargers are on offense, it will be harder for them to communicate in a no-huddle setting and that could slow the game down.
“This will be a great test for us this week,” Zimmer said. “San Diego’s an extremely talented offensive football team. They do a lot of things defensively to create problems for you and we’re going to need our fans this week, especially with the no huddle offense that they run – the muddle huddle – and the communication. I think they can really help us being loud this Sunday.”
Part of it, though, is the fans need to know when to be loud and when to be quite. When the Vikings are offense, wide receiver Mike Wallace prefers the quieter work environment.
“It was really loud,” he said. “We were even having problems hearing. They were even cheering on offense. Sometimes they were cheering at the wrong times. But you would rather have them cheering all the time rather than none of the time.”
Zimmer said one of the hardest things about going against the Chargers’ “muddle huddle” offense is the tempo they set, or lack there of. There are points in the game where quarterback Philip Rivers will get his team up to the line in a hurry and then snap the ball right away. On the next play he might get his team up to the line in a hurry and then wait out the entire play clock until he snaps the ball.
The sporadic tempo can make things difficult for the defense because it is hard to predict when the ball is going to be snapped, making it harder for them to keep their defenses disguised. The Vikings defense isn’t too worried about it.
“Just got to be ready for anything,” said defensive tackle Tom Johnson. “The hurry-up offense, they like to be on the line, see what the defense is doing, as in blitzing, position of where our nickel is and stuff. So we just got to be aligned, carry out our game plan, attack and be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
Johnson is used primarily as a rotational defensive tackle that specializes in the pass rush. The high tempo of the offense can make it difficult to get players like Johnson into the game because if the offense is rolling there is no chance to switch players in and out.
“You can’t substitute as easy,” Johnson said. “First down, you’re going to have the big guys in, second down you’re going to have the mid guys, third down you’re going to have the pass rushers. So it’s a situation of the coaches just managing the game.”
There will likely be times during the course of this game where players are going to be forced to stay on the field for long periods of time without rest. It could become too difficult to get substitutions in if the Chargers offense starts picking up first down after first down and the starters might have to play the series, but they already have that experience from the first two weeks.
Last week against the Detroit Lions, the Vikings defense was on the field for a 20-play drive, much longer than the average drive, and a lot of that drive took place with the offense in no-huddle. Johnson said he is thankful for that experience because he believes it should help them a lot as they head into their Week 3 matchup against the Chargers.
Besides the tempo, another thing that the Chargers offense does that makes things difficult for opposing defenses is run a lot of different plays out of a single formation. By having that ability they can disguise their plays better and it can often keep defenses on their heels because they don’t know if it will be a pass or run, or where the play will be going.
“They make it difficult because they can run a lot of different runs out of their no-huddle gun formation, which a lot of teams, they’re more basic in their gun runs,” Zimmer said. “This team runs quite a bit and the backs they have, all three of them really, are very explosive. I do think that Philip does a good job at checking in and out of plays, getting into the right things. Sometimes he’ll take three cadences, change it at the last second, so he gets them in a lot of good plays.”
The Vikings need to stick to the game plan their coaches have given them and they feel like they will be able to come away with a victory.
“We got until Sunday to be ready, so we’ve got time,” said defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. “We’ve got time to get our stamina up if we need to, but other than that it’s just football. Everything’s still the same, nothing changes but the tempo.”