The Minnesota Vikings’ defense had their work cut out for them Thursday night as they had to go up against the Seattle Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is a player who caused them some fits last season, mostly because of his ability to move around in the pocket and escape pressure.
In two meetings last season, the Vikings were only able to sack Wilson three times. Things played out a little differently during their 2016 preseason matchup, though, as they were able to sack him four times in one half.
It started out with defensive end Everson Griffen beating the left tackle and then chasing Wilson down from behind. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph joined in with a sack of his own. Linebacker Anthony Barr was also able to get to the quarterback, as he was able to corral him up on a blitz. Safety Andrew Sendejo was the final Viking to get his hands on Wilson, as he came on a blitz that had Wilson confused and dancing around in the backfield.
The Vikings’ starters were not able to record a single sack during their first preseason game and a big reason for that is because the defense kept putting themselves in third-and-short situations. That means they are not able to bring extra defenders as frequently on the rush and that is often what leads to sacks.
This week was a different story, though, because the Seahawks offense was often in second-and-long or third-and-long situations and had to throw the ball. The Vikings knew that, which meant they were able to bring the extra pass rushers.
“We kind of corralled him a little bit from getting out of the pocket too much,” head coach Mike Zimmer said about facing Wilson. “He had a couple deep balls, he’s a good football player. We had some opportunities to rush him tonight, which is kind of what I said last week. We didn’t allow ourselves to be able to rush the quarterback. We did some tonight, so that helped to be able to do it. Our guys are pretty disciplined with the way they rush. I think Everson did a nice job getting to him, I think it was the first sack.”
The difference that a good pass rush makes was very clear just when comparing the first two preseason games and a big reason for that is the down and distance. A pass rusher isn’t able to attack the quarterback with a singular focus if it’s third-and-short because he has to also be wary of the run. If it’s a third-and-8, the offense probably isn’t going to run the ball.
That means the defensive ends can focus on beating their guys and getting after the quarterback. It also allows Zimmer to dial up a number of different blitzes and disguises to confuse the quarterback.
There are still plenty of things that the Vikings defense needs to continue to work on, but they definitely took a step in the right direction during Thursday’s game and a big part of that was because of the way they were able to put themselves in a favorable position and get after Wilson.