After the Minnesota Vikings’ first-team offense struggled on their first drive and executed on their second in Friday night’s preseason opener, head coach Mike Zimmer said the Cincinnati Bengals blitzed on the first play, blitzed “a lot” and blitzed on “almost every snap.”
Zimmer was right that the Bengals blitzed on the first snap that Teddy Bridgewater took from center John Sullivan, but the Bengals were typically measured on how much they blitzed when the Vikings’ first-team offense was on the field.
On the dismal three-and-out drive to start Minnesota’s offense, the Bengals only blitzed on the first play, and that was the only completion of Bridgewater’s three dropbacks.
“You want to see as many looks as possible. It doesn’t matter who you are playing against, if it’s on (practice) cards, if it’s against the Vikings defense, up against Cincinnati,” Sullivan said this week. “As many different players, as many different looks as you can see, it only builds familiarity and continuity and gets everybody playing on the same page.”
The Vikings are trying to piece together a starting offensive line that should have at least two new starters – Alex Boone at left guard and likely Andre Smith at right tackle, along with the return of Sullivan after he missed the entire 2015 season because of two back surgeries. Against the Bengals, only left tackle Matt Kalil was in the same spot from last year’s starting offensive line, so there is plenty of work and familiarity to be gained in the preseason.
Game-planning for opponents will slowly ramp up as the preseason continues.
“That’ll help some things, too. But some of the run things we do against blitzes change because of where guys are moving to, where they’re going, different aspects,” Zimmer said. “So if you’re not all on the same page, you can have a mis-fit here and there. That’s kind of what happened the other night.”
Bridgewater was pressured on his first snap, stiff-arm DT Geno Atkins and connected on a 3-yard pass to TE MyCole Pruitt. The next play, when the Bengals sent only four rushers, Atkins sacked Bridgewater when Joe Berger, filling in for Brandon Fusco at right guard, and Kalil allowed pressure.
On the next play, Bridgewater was hit as he threw incomplete when Smith allowed the quarterback hit from his right tackle spot.
In all, Bridgewater dropped to pass eight times. The Bengals blitzed on only two of those occasions, both of them completions for a combined 11 yards.
“We just hadn’t worked on those particular things as much. We’ve added some new runs. We’ve added some new wrinkles with a lot of different things,” Zimmer said. “So you’ve got to get the fundamentals down before you start working on the adjustments.”
Both the Bengals and the Seattle Seahawks, whom the Vikings play on Thursday night, are not known for a heavy percentage of blitzing lately, usually finishing in the bottom half of the league for blitz percentage.
Sullivan said how the Vikings handle the blitz depends on the offensive and defensive personnel.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the offensive line. It has to do with matchups,” Sullivan said. “Depending on the other team’s personnel, sometimes you want a big guy blocking him, sometimes you’re OK with a little guy blocking him. You can tailor your scheme to that.”
Both Sullivan and Bridgewater said they weren’t surprised when the Bengals blitzed, and both said it is to the Vikings’ advantage to see that in the preseason and adjust to it.
“Definitely. Whenever you can give guys information on the fly and they process it and do exactly what you want them to do after being told what to do, it’s a great thing and our guys are doing a great job of doing that,” Bridgewater said.
Said Sullivan: “If that’s what you’re going to see in the season, you may as well see it now.”