Mobile quarterbacks are difficult for any defense to play against. It’s hard for them to manage a player that can hurt them through the air and also on the ground once the defensive backs turn their backs to cover the wide receivers downfield.
The solution some teams come up with is to leave a linebacker down as a spy, following the quarterback along the line of scrimmage and leaving him nowhere to run. But the problem with that strategy is that leaving a linebacker down near the line focusing on the quarterback means the defense has one less player dropping back into coverage or rushing the passer.
The Minnesota Vikings have had their fair share of troubles going up against mobile quarterbacks. Just look at the 2015 season when they went up against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks on two different occasions.
Wilson was a thorn in the side of the Vikings defense during their first meeting that ended in a 38-7 loss for the purple. The quarterback was running around the field, avoiding pass rushers and using his legs to create plays throughout the whole game. He ended with nine rushes for 51 yards and a touchdown during the game, while also completing 21 of 27 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings were only able to sack him one time.
The Vikings defense was clearly ready for Wilson during their second meeting in the first-round of the playoffs. They were able to contain the mobile quarterback much better, sacking him twice and forcing an interception. Wilson ran the ball just five times for 21 yards and only completed 13 passes on 26 attempts for 142 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, that touchdown just so happened to be the difference-maker in the game.
It was the fourth quarter and the Seahawks were at the Vikings 39-yard line. The center snapped the ball over Wilson’s head, so he had to turn around to go get it. That caused the defense to break down a little bit as players were trying to go after Wilson and the loose ball. Wilson was able to secure the ball, avoid the Vikings defenders pursuing him and complete a pass downfield for a 35-yard gain. Wilson would then throw a 3-yard touchdown pass two plays later.
It was another case where a quarterback’s mobility and ability to create plays out of nothing hurt the Vikings. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer knows that it’s hard on the defense when they face these types of quarterbacks because the defenders try to focus on them instead of the task at hand.
“Most of the time, what happens is you start peaking and you quit rushing,” he explained. “Instead of maintaining, or trying to beat the guy you’re on, you start looking around for the quarterback and then you don’t rush. We’ve been fairly disciplined with our rush lanes, so I’m sure there’s the possibility (Wilson) will get out a couple times.”
The Vikings will have to go up against the Seahawks and Wilson again on Thursday for their second preseason game of the season, but it will be a much different scenario. Wilson will likely only play in a few series of the game and then be taken out to avoid injury, and the same goes for the Vikings’ first-team defense.
Where problems could arise, though, is when the second-team defense has to go up against the Seahawks' backup quarterback, Trevone Boykin. He is also a mobile quarterback and recorded 21 rushing yards on just three attempts during his first preseason game.
The preseason is often a time where younger players work on cleaning up their technique and doing all the right things. A mobile quarterback can often throw a wrench into that development because of his ability to do so many different things.
“It probably hurts a little bit,” Zimmer said when asked about facing mobile quarterbacks in the preseason. “I don’t know if this is the right answer, but we’re always trying to maintain proper rush lanes. But we’re going to have some cards today - it’s the first time we’ve done anything with it - so it’s not a real big deal.”
One thing that will help the Vikings defense when facing the Seahawks’ mobile quarterbacks, and other ones they face this season, is their focus on getting long and athletic since Zimmer took over in 2014. They have brought in players like Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter, Jayron Kearse and multiple others who are very athletic and long. They can run with most players out on the field and have a lot of length, which makes getting away from them more difficult.
“I think we’re more athletic; that always helps,” Zimmer said when asked if they’re now better at facing these mobile quarterbacks. “When you can add guys, big, long guys with range, like Hunter, (Everson) Griffen’s a heck of an athlete, Barr’s a big, long athlete that can run.”
Thursday’s game will be quite the test for the Vikings defense as they try to contain the athletic quarterbacks the Seahawks have, but it will also be a good learning experience. This is not a game that matters in regards to the regular season and playoffs, so the young players on the Vikings defense can use this opportunity to learn what to do and not to do against mobile quarterbacks.