It hasn't taken long for Vikings fans to see how the most expensive acquisition in franchise history has changed the way offenses approach the Minnesota defense.
Defensive end Jared Allen is frequently credited with drawing double teams away from the other two Pro Bowl players on the line, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, the defensive tackles.
But last Sunday against the Chicago Bears, the Vikings showed another way to use Allen – albeit one that drew some criticism considering the result.
At one point, the Vikings dropped Allen into coverage. It was a play in which the Bears scored a 51-yard touchdown on a pass to wide receiver Marty Booker, who was near Allen when he made the catch.
"It just kind of fits with our fire-zone package," head coach Brad Childress said when asked about dropping Allen off the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball. "At times, it's him and at times it's Ray (Edwards). Once in a while you'll see Kevin Williams get up and drop off, but it just fits in the configuration. When you fire zone, usually you're bringing more people than they can handle. You need to get somebody in to coverage on the back side. We don't give him too big a progression with route reads or anything like that, but he does have a few rules that he has to adhere to, in terms of drawing the tackles, blocking first, getting off the line of scrimmage then looking for crossers. There's a little bit of a protocol."
Allen wasn't able to make the play on Booker, and it appeared that one or two defensive backs took bad angles in looking to get to Booker, who made it through the initial wave of defenders and then outran everyone to the end zone.
Asked about dropping into coverage during a zone blitz, Allen said, "Let's put it this way: I'm about 100 pounds heavier than some of those guys. They're running a little faster than me. It's a different scheme. That's coach's call. Would I like to rush every down? Yeah, darn right. I don't play linebacker. But I also understand the concept of the defense, that sometimes you can catch a team off-guard by bringing different people. Heck, if I got a pick to the house I'd probably be pretty happy about dropping. The biggest thing is pass rushing is a rhythm, and when you drop you kind of get out of that rhythm. But the most important thing is winning football games."
Asked about taking the league's defending sack champion from 2007 (Allen had 15½ sacks last year), Childress said dropping him into coverage brings an element of surprise. He also refuted the notion that Allen was covering a wide receiver.
"I don't think he was covering a receiver. I think the receiver was the widest guy on the field. All he's trying to do is, at times, to get into that path and that lane. There's a zone in there where some of those short, intermediate throws are. (It's) no different than if you are rushing the passer. You're turning and running to the football," Childress said. "It's kind of our kill zone, where you see defensive linemen come and run and hit people that are catching short passes or shallow crosses. The offensive guy is never even thinking of him. He's looking ahead at the guys ahead of him and defensive linemen have hits a lot of the time that jar the ball loose."
Another surprising revelation about the Vikings defense came in watching the television copy of the game. It was a bit shocking to cornerback Antoine Winfield when he got back to the Twin Cities after the 48-41 defeat. In watching and listening to it, it was apparent that Bears quarterback Kyle Orton had an understanding of what the Vikings were trying to do defensively.
With a struggling running game, Orton had a 283-yard performance that featured two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.5 passer rating.
"I know we were running some zone blitzes. Orton did a good job of recognizing who was coming, calling out the Mike (middle) linebacker," Winfield said. "I watched the TV copy (last Sunday night) and you could hear him calling who was coming, so they kind of knew what we were in and he did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands."
Asked what he can do to change that, Winfield was reluctant to expand.
"I would say something, but I'm going to keep that off the record. What could you do? Just try to get some different things, get some different looks," he said. "There is nothing I can do. There are only certain things that we're going to run, and if they watch enough film they'll know where we're coming from. Whatever is called we have to go out there and execute it."
Revisiting a defense that was cracked
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