Preseason blitzing limited, but effective for Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings found more success blitzing in their second preseason game.

The Minnesota Vikings defense is known for head coach Mike Zimmer’s love of showing the double A-gap pressures, sending linebackers near the line of scrimmage to keep the interior offensive linemen guessing who is coming to rush the passer and who is dropping back.

Pressure, or at least the threat of it, is a tenet of Zimmer’s defense. But his ability to effectively have defenders rush the passer depends partly on which of his players are available and which ones might be out with injury.

“If we’re going to defeat the protection then I’m going to call it,” Zimmer said. “If it’s a run blitz it might be different, but if it’s a pass blitz it’d be more about defeating the protection.”

Through two preseason games, how have the Vikings done in their pass defense?

The truth is the first-team defense hasn’t had a lot of exposure to it and the results have been mixed against two 2015 playoff teams in the Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks.

Against the Bengals in the preseason opener, the Vikings’ first-team defense rushed the standard four defensive linemen far more often than they brought extra rushers.

The majority of the first-team defense went against Bengals quarterbacks Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron, but brought the blitz only four out of 14 dropbacks. When they did, it was only one extra blitzer.

Against the standard four-man rush from the Vikings’ starting defense, the Bengals went 8-for-10 for 58 yards. When Zimmer brought the blitz, the Bengals were 3-for-4 for 32 yards. Either way, the pass rush didn’t get home for a sack.

Once again, in a little more extensive time (three series) in the second preseason game, the blitz wasn’t a staple of what the Vikings showed in a preseason game. But it did have better results.

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With the standard four-man rush, Russell Wilson went 4-for-9 for 46 yards and was sacked twice – a 2-yarder by Linval Joseph when the defensive ends shut down Wilson’s usual wide escape angle, and a 10-yarder by Everson Griffen, who showed impressive speed tracking down Wilson from behind.

The Vikings brought five defenders on the pass rush only once, resulting in an 18-yard sack by Andrew Sendejo. They brought six on the pass rush three times, with Anthony Barr registering an 11-yard sack and Wilson going 1-for-2 for 31 yards on a perfectly thrown pass to Tyler Lockett.

Barr might be the Vikings’ most important defender when it comes to blitzes with his ability to disrupt and chase, but he has missed six games in the past two regular seasons due to injury.

Personnel matters when it comes to what blitzes Zimmer calls.

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“It always matters. I mean there’s a combination of things. It’s partly what I think the offense is going to come out in and what their protection is going to be,” Zimmer said. “Then part of it is who we blitz and how we attack it. I’m always trying to figure out how to get the best blitzers involved if I can.”

So far, the pass-rush blitzes have been about what you might figure in the preaseason. They have been limited but generally effective when used.

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