The Vikings may have seen the NFL’s best defense in their last game when they faced the non-stop barrage of pressure from the Denver Broncos. Teddy Bridgewater got sacked seven times and the Broncos consistently put the heat on him.
Things don’t get much easier this week, as the Vikings face the hard-charging front of the Kansas City Chiefs defense. While much of the focus is on pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali from the edge, much of their success in causing havoc for Teddy Bridgewater is the inside pressure they bring from defensive linemen Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey, Mike DeVito and Jaye Howard – all of whom will be putting pressure on the interior of the Vikings offensive line to make sure the pocket stays clean.
The best part of the situation for guards Mike Harris and Brandon Fusco, even when they don’t hold up on a play, Bridgewater isn’t the kind to throw blame or get upset. That helps the confidence of the linemen in untold ways knowing that they have the respect of their franchise quarterback.
“I love that guy,” Harris said of Bridgewater. “He never points a finger. He never loses his composure. … This week, we’ve got some pass rushers on the edge, so T.J. (Clemmings) and Matt (Kalil) will have a big challenge. For me, we have to keep the pocket pressed up so Teddy can step up and make throws downfield. We do have the weapons. When we get the ball out to those guys, we can cause a lot of damage for defenses. We took last week as a lesson.”
Although the Chiefs are 1-4, they have a formidable front seven that can create havoc.
It may not show in the record, but Andy Reid’s team has been powered by its defense and its ability to create pressure on the edge and to use that heat to create numbers mismatches up the middle.
“They’ve got great edge rushers and they’re physical up front,” Fusco said. “Poe is a pretty physical nose guard. The game is going to be about leverage and being more physical with them. If we just do our part, we can get the running game going and protect Teddy.”
In their two victories, the Vikings offensive line has set the tempo. They struggled in the opener against San Francisco and were often overwhelmed by Denver, but head coach Mike Zimmer believes the Vikings can be dominant up front – both protecting Bridgewater and opening holes for Adrian Peterson.
When they work as a unit, even being shorthanded without Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan, the Vikings have shown they have an O-line that is capable being more physical in some games. Other times, errors leave them, and Bridgewater, exposed.
“It’s some communication, but it’s a lot of technique and being together,” Zimmer said. “I guess the best way to say it is like if the guard and tackle are double-teaming the three-technique, there’s a certain point off the double-team they want to come off and get the linebacker. It’s the same thing in pass protection. At a certain point, you’re working here and if this guy goes a little too far and he doesn’t follow him or one guy sets the other way and there’s a space there, that’s what creates the issue, just like the combination blocks.”
The Vikings struggled badly against that coaching philosophy in Denver in their last game. Kansas City brings a similar style and the Vikings’ linemen are getting ready for the long 12-games-in-12-weeks finishing schedule that will stamp their 2015 legacy.
Kansas City is the first stop on their arduous fall-winter tour and they know what they’re seeing on film -- because they’ve seen it live … recently.
“(Denver) had great personnel up front and this week with Kansas City won’t be any easier,” Fusco said. “It’s going to be a grind and we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game every week.”
The Chiefs are a team on life support. Go to 1-5 to start a season and you’re cleaning out lockers Jan. 4. It is what it is. The Vikings offensive line knows it is going to have a desperate, angry team. The Vikings’ job will be to have the Chiefs leave TCF Bank Stadium angrier than when they arrived.
“They bring it,” Harris said. “As a line, we have to just do our job and protect. We can’t have mental errors. We have to know who we’re blocking and how we’re going to block them to give Teddy time. When we do things right, good things happen for our team.”