Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line will face a unique challenge from Chicago’s defense

The beleaguered offensive line of the Minnesota Vikings is going to see a much different defensive front Monday at Chicago. After facing a 4-3 defense last week, they're up against a 3-4 Monday ... or is it a 3-5?

It has become something of a broken record around Winter Park. When Minnesota Vikings players come into the locker room, they are bombarded regularly with questions about what went wrong. While questioning around the different position groups has been mostly positive this year, things are far different when it comes to the offensive line.

Nowhere was that more pronounced than with the offensive line group. They were overwhelmed Sunday against Philadelphia to the point that a disgusted Mike Zimmer referred to the unit as “soft” following the game.

Guard Alex Boone has been acclimating himself to the Vikings since coming over via free agency. While he has had Joe Berger on his right shoulder all season, he has had three different tackles lining up on his left shoulder – Matt Kalil, T.J. Clemmings and Jake Long.

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He admits it’s hard to create a continuity on the line when you have so many players coming in and going out of the lineup, but it’s part of the job description.

“In this game, you don’t have much of a choice,” Boone said. “You work as best you can. For the most part, people work on the same page, but it’s one of those things. You’re a professional and you’re supposed to make it work regardless of who’s out there.”

So what went wrong against the Eagles? Philadelphia hadn’t shown a propensity to blitz earlier this season. In their first five games, the Eagles defense averaged just four blitzes a game. Against the Vikings, they dialed up 15 blitzes and they led to four sacks of Sam Bradford and two strip-sack fumbles.

While the Eagles showed the Vikings things they hadn’t seen on tape, Boone felt the O-line was just as detrimental to its own cause.

“It was a combination of things,” Boone said. “It was a little bit of the edge pressure they were bringing, but it was just as much us shooting ourselves in the foot. We just weren’t playing up to the level we should have. It’s nothing that we can’t correct and we need to do a much better job at that this week.”

The cynics are claiming that Philadelphia provided the secret blueprint for other teams to attack the Vikings’ offensive front, but Chicago isn’t going to have a similar defensive scheme when the teams meet Monday night.

When Chicago hired John Fox, they did so knowing that they have never run a 3-4 defense in Chicago, but that has been Fox’s scheme for the last two decades.

For an interior lineman like Boone, the difference between a 4-3 and 3-4 is often like night and day, often with him lining up with nobody directly opposite him.

“Mostly, it’s just about the spacing that is there with the defensive front,” Boone said. “A 4-3 team presents different challenges than a 3-4 team does. A 3-4 defense has a lot more blitzing because your two linebackers on the outside that are usually coming from one or the other or both. There are a lot more different schemes you see with a 3-4 – different players lining up at different positions. With a 4-3, you going to see similar personnel hitting the same gaps. With a 3-4, you have a two-gap and they’re going to play a little more run-heavy from their formations. It’s different, but you see enough of them over the course of a year that it isn’t something you haven’t dealt with before.”

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Even among teams that run a 3-4 defense, there are numerous variations, depending on the strengths of the personnel being employed. Chicago’s version is different in that it is among a growing number of teams that incorporate an extra linebacker or safety used alternately as pass rushers and run stuffers – creating a 3-5 scheme.

“There are some that are two-gap and some that are one-gap, but we’re starting to see a lot of hybrids coming out,” Boone said. “There are 35’s that teams are using. It’s like a real 3-4, but they always squeeze the weakside down and always reduce him. This is good combination that Chicago runs. They’re a 3-4 in name, but they’re more of a 35 hybrid than a classic 3-4.”

The Vikings have held up pretty well against 3-4 defenses and, despite licking their wounds following the loss last Sunday, there is a sense of confidence that the team can get back on track against the Bears.

Boone is so convinced that if they didn’t have to wait until Monday, that would be just fine by him.

“We want to get back out there and get rid of the memory of last week,” Boone said. “I’d play today if they would let us. We didn’t play well last week. We were our own worst enemy and all we’re looking to do is get back to the style of game we play. You’re going to see a different performance from our guys up front Monday.”

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