Film review: Minnesota Vikings blitzed sparingly, effectively

Mike Zimmer’s defense is known for showing the blitz, but it didn’t need to blitz often to apply pressure on Cam Newton.

Mike Zimmer deflected the praise for the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive success to date, praising his defenders for being talented enough and smart enough to handle their assignments.

The Vikings held Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton to one of the worst passer ratings of his career – 47.6 – as he completed 21 of 35 passes for 262 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

It was the second straight week that the Vikings had faced one of the better quarterbacks in the league and seemed to flummox him.

In Week 2, the Vikings held Green bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to one touchdown and one interception (his only interception this season) and a 70.7 rating, easily his lowest rating of the season after posting a 95.1 in the first game and a 129.3 on Sunday.

“These guys are all pretty good players. It’s hard to really confuse guys anymore,” Zimmer said. “We try to do our best. And, really, I know people are saying that it’s me against this guy or that guy. We’ve got good players and these guys execute the things we try to get them to do. It’s a player’s game and these guys have been executing and doing a nice job. I can’t go out there and cover a guy or rush a guy or anything like that so it really has nothing to do with me.”

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That’s probably simplifying things too much, but the way Zimmer puts his players in position to attack offenses can confuse them. He likes to show the blitz, but he also backs his players out of it more than bringing it.

Of the 46 times Newton and the Panthers dropped to throw (including one by Derek Anderson when Newton was out), the Vikings blitzed only 12 times. Newton was 3-for-4 for 36 yards and a sack when Minnesota rushed five defenders, but he wasn’t effective at all on the seven times Zimmer sent six rushers.

On those occasions, Newton was 0-for-5 with an interception, a sack and a 1-yard run while scrambling.

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“Do I enjoy it? I don’t know,” Zimmer said of the cat-and-mouse game of showing a blitz and sometimes bringing it. “It’s just trying to keep the offense on edge, I guess, the best we can. If we didn’t have good guys, smart guys and then guys that could win on one-on-one, we wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the stuff that we do.”

The Vikings didn’t have to bring the blitz against the Panthers to pressure the quarterback. While Newton had a zero passer rating facing six rushers, he had a 102.1 rating with five rushers.

Facing a “standard” four-man rush, Newton was sacked six times and threw two interceptions, completing 18 of 26 passes for 226 yards for a 63.9 rating (passer rating doesn’t take into account sacks).

In the third season of Zimmer’s defense, his players have learned the nuances of the scheme.

The Vikings have run a lot of different looks on their blitzes, sending linebackers, safeties, even nickel backs like Captain Munnerlyn and Marcus Sherels on Sunday. During one six-man rush, they even brought both of their linebackers, a safety and dropped Brian Robison into coverage. On that occasion, Harrison Smith got his sack.

Zimmer credited experience in the system.

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“It helps obviously in a number of ways because I think they can play a little faster, but the communication,” Zimmer said. “I can go up to Harrison during the week and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you do this a little bit this week?’ Or like I say more on the sideline, being able to communicate things. I typically don’t do this, but in the last ballgame, not this past one, we had one of the pressures that we practiced a lot but we didn’t have it in game plan this week. I went over and talked to the guys and said, ‘Hey, are you guys good with this?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.’ So we ran it.”

More than likely it was effective.

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