Eric Kendricks had no idea he led the NFL in sacks last week, but it is also something he couldn’t have expected.
Kendricks has usually played second fiddle to Anthony Barr when it comes to blitzing linebackers in the Minnesota Vikings defense, but against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Kendricks’ performance was one of the few bright spots.
His 2½ sacks led the NFL in Week 16.
“I think I just took advantage of my opportunities last week and things just worked out,” Kendricks said. “I wouldn’t say they’re using me more or less. I guess it’s just all in the game plan.”
Last year, Kendricks became the first rookie to lead the Vikings in tackles as he established himself as a solid run stopper working behind nose tackle Linval Joseph. This year, Kendricks has added a lot to his game.
This year, he leads the Vikings in tackles again with 113, second in tackles for loss with 11 and third in passes defensed with 10. Last week, he also held receivers he was assigned in coverage to under 2 yards a catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
But it was his blitzing ability that stood out in the Green Bay game. After going 14 games this year without a sack, he registered 2½ against one of the best NFL quarterbacks as escaping from pressure.
“He was active. He made plays, ran around. There are still some coverage issues that we need to get better at with the underneath part of the coverage, which some of those things showed up in the ballgame,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “So, we’ve got to do better there, but I thought both of those linebackers played very well.”
In the season opener, Kendricks returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown, the third-longest interception return in the NFL this year (teammate Xavier Rhodes leads the league with his 100-yard return).
Kendricks’ 2½ sacks in one game is tied for the second-most by any linebacker in franchise history (the record of three from Lonnie Warwick came in 1967), and it took some time for Kendricks to develop his blitzing skills.
“Half of it is just committing to it. I feel like, especially early in the season, I would struggle with that and I never really blitzed in college or high school as well. Blitzing always is challenging for me. So I guess it’s just finding what I’m good at and just having that mindset of rushing the passer,” he said.
“Half of it is the mentality, just with anything else with football if you’re timid at all or maybe too aggressive in some aspects you’re going to get beat. But it’s about mentality.”