The rest of the world is learning what Minnesota Vikings fans have known for two years – much of their success over the last two seasons has been attributable to an innovative and impressive defense.
This week ESPN did an offseason piece by former defensive player Matt Bowen looking at the most creative defensive play-callers in the NFL. While Bowen declined to rank the defensive gurus, he listed five defensive difference-makers on his ledger – Denver’s Wade Phillips, George Edwards and Mike Zimmer of the Vikings, Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick of the New England, Gregg Williams of the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle’s Kris Richard and Pete Carroll.
While the Vikings do a lot of things that force the issue with opposing quarterbacks – bringing blitzes from all angles, a swarming run defense and effective man-to-man pass coverage have all been hallmarks of the Zimmer-schemed defense.
But what has made the Vikings so impressive is that quarterbacks have trouble diagnosing what Minnesota is throwing at them. Unlike the Tampa-2 defense teams had become accustomed to seeing from the Vikings for years, which was extremely predictable prior to the snap, few teams throw more trickery and chicanery than Minnesota does now, and it shows with the uncertainty offenses have facing it.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1672415-u-s-bank-stadium-introduc... “Disguise, pre-snap movement and double A-gap pressure -- that's what you get from Edwards and the Minnesota Vikings in Zimmer's scheme,” Bowen wrote. “I use the term ‘window dressing’ a lot with offensive coordinators like Sean Payton and Mike Shula. They are the kings of dressing up formations to run basic route schemes and concepts. But on defense, the Vikings use camouflage as well as anyone in the league to take away throwing lanes and bring an avalanche of pressure on the quarterback.”
The key to the success, it was theorized, is the consistent use of the double-A gap pressure. Instead of facing the standard four-man front prior to the snap, the Vikings routinely have five, six or even seven players crowding the line of scrimmage – giving the pre-snap indication that they may be bringing the house on the blitz.
While the Vikings would typically wait until the quarterback was too far into the play clock to check out of the full-out blitz, they didn’t do it every time and brought the house and overwhelmed the blocking scheme.
It has forced quarterbacks to make snap decisions based on guessing whether the team would pull out of it or not – putting more ideas in the quarterback’s head than there should be as he’s preparing to throw a pass or check down out of the called play.
“To start, what does ‘double A gap’ really mean?,” Bowen asked. “In Minnesota, that translates to two defenders (usually linebackers) lining up close to the line of scrimmage over the center. That immediately creates some confusion up front in the offensive protection scheme. Are these dudes blitzing? Are they dropping in coverage? Do we need to slide the protection? And where the heck is safety Harrison Smith?”
What makes the defense work is that the Vikings take an offensive approach to a specific down and distance. Just as offenses can put men in motion, use different blocking schemes and change up receiver packages, the Vikings can do several things out of the initial look they are showing a quarterback.
It is that diversity that makes them dangerous.
“From there, the possibilities for the defense are endless, really,” Bowen explained. “You can drop to 3-deep/3-under (a standard zone-blitz shell). You can drop to a quarters-match scheme. You can take away the open (weak) side hot read. You can roll the safeties. Again, it's not complicated and it doesn't have to be.”
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1671848-sunday-slant-the-most-val... When Zimmer and Edwards were hired in 2014, they knew they were going to have a learning curve with their young players. If the players were willing to be open to teaching and buy into what the coaches were selling, success would come. It may take time, but it would come. In his first season, it took time for the Vikings to pick up on the scheme, but they ended up winning five of their last nine games and showing some promise.
Last season, they realized that promise, going 11-5 and winning the NFC North. With essentially the entire group from last year intact and rookie and free agent additions, there’s no reason to think the Vikings will take a step back. They have found a formula that works and now they’re merely trying to perfect their craft.
“Edwards and Zimmer obviously have a much deeper playbook than just the double A-gap looks, but it's the Vikings' ability to disguise and move off this alignment that really creates issues for opposing offenses – and they have the speed/athleticism on defense to dial this up to get results,” Bowen wrote.
Offense is what sells the NFL to the general public. Fantasy football and high-scoring games are what gets the audiences to tune in. But, in reality, defense is what wins championships – the ability to stop an opposing offense consistently enough to give one’s own offense enough chances to put up enough points to win.
At the present time, few teams are doing things defensively as well and as consistently as the Vikings.