- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Here's how bad things have gotten for the Minnesota Vikings' pass rush, which used to take special pride in harassing Aaron Rodgers in their two matchups with the Green Bay Packers each year: In Sunday's 44-31 loss to the Packers, the Vikings sent five or more pass-rushers on nine of Rodgers' 35 dropbacks, resorting to blitzing more often than they've had to do against the former league MVP and often paying dearly for it.
When the Vikings brought extra pressure, Rodgers went 7 of 9 for 111 yards and a touchdown, doing most of his damage on a 76-yard shot to Jordy Nelson in the second quarter. On that play, the Vikings tried to confuse Rodgers by setting up lineman Everson Griffen in a two-point stance inside, and dropping him into coverage while middle linebacker Erin Henderson and nickel cornerback Marcus Sherels blitzed, leaving outside linebacker Chad Greenway to come across the defensive formation and cover Nelson. Greenway was closing on Nelson, but Rodgers got the ball to Nelson before the linebacker could get there, whizzing a pass by Greenway's earhole and hitting Nelson for a touchdown.
The play was instructive of why most teams don't dare to blitz Rodgers -- he has a league-leading QBR against rushes of five or more since he became the Packers' starter in 2008 -- and in Leslie Frazier's as defensive coordinator or head coach, the Vikings have started to shy away from it. They sent five or more on six dropbacks in both regular season games against Rodgers last year, before bumping that total up to eight in the playoff game against Green Bay. But in Frazier's first six meetings with Rodgers as the Vikings' defensive coordinator, the Vikings brought extra pressure on an average of 10.83 dropbacks per game.
Why were they back to bringing extra pressure on a quarter of Rodgers' dropbacks last night? The Vikings have been blitzing a tad more all season, as their front four has struggled to get home, but Sunday night was especially bad. The Vikings sacked Rodgers twice -- Greenway's sack came after Rodgers couldn't find a receiver on third-and-9, while Letroy Guion pulled Rodgers down just before he crossed the line of scrimmage on a scramble. Griffen, whom many thought was poised for a breakout year, hit Rodgers once. Nobody else recorded a hit on him -- not Brian Robison (who might have had the most consistent pressure for the Vikings), not first-round pick Sharrif Floyd and not Allen, who might have been playing his last game against the Packers in a Vikings uniform. Allen had 16 sacks in 12 previous games against the Packers; on Sunday, he didn't have a sack or a tackle.
The formula for winning in the modern NFL generally requires three things: an elite quarterback, a solid secondary and a consistent pass rush. The Vikings don't have the first two, and it's beginning to look like they might not have the third. It figures they'll target a quarterback in the draft in April, but if South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is around, might the Vikings head in that direction? It's at least worth considering.
The alternative is games like Sunday's, when the Vikings were forced to gamble against Rodgers and got burned.