Minnesota Vikings: Geno Atkins

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For all the heat they were able to put on Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on Sunday -- getting pressure on 23.3 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information -- the Minnesota Vikings only sacked Ryan once, on a blitz from Anthony Barr in the fourth quarter.

The rest of the day saw Ryan eluding chances to bring him down, doing some solid work once he escaped the pocket. He hit all four of his throws outside the pocket on Sunday, throwing for 34 yards and a touchdown and converting a 3rd-and-20 when Barr stepped up and left room for Ryan to find Julio Jones for a first down.

Some of those plays might have turned into sacks, or additional pressure on Ryan, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, if the Vikings had done a better job of rushing the quarterback as a team.

"It’s part of us being a team rush; we’re not individual rushers," said Zimmer in response to a question about defensive end Brian Robison missing several sacks on Sunday. "He’s done a good job and we haven’t helped him enough with some of the other guys, not because they’re not trying or they can’t rush. It’s because, like I said before, we are rushing as individuals. It’s no different than any other part of defense. You play good as a team, you know where you’re supposed to be at and then good things happen for other people and consequently good things happen for you.

"Guys feel like they can beat guys one-on-one. The hard part is getting them to understand that we will all have a lot more success, including the individual, if we will do it the right way, and we haven’t done it the right way the last couple of weeks."

The Vikings old Cover-2 scheme gave defensive linemen plenty of chances to rush upfield, but Zimmer's scheme mitigates those opportunities with more calls for linemen to engage blockers and collapse the pocket. Defensive ends typically don't accumulate big sack numbers in Zimmer's scheme -- in fact, only two defensive linemen (Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson, both in 2012) posted double-digit sack totals in a season when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Getting the Vikings to grasp the scheme changes has been an ongoing process in Minnesota, and it appears Zimmer isn't fully satisfied with the results yet.

"We have actually pressured OK; what we haven’t done is rush smart," Zimmer said. "We have to rush a lot smarter and same thing with this quarterback. If we give him an opportunity to get out of the pocket a lot of times, a lot of bad things happen.

"(It's) usually when a quarterback moves a little bit and you miss a sack. (We might have sacked him) if we had been a little smarter on the other side, or the push was a little bit better in the middle or we don’t run by the quarterback. It shows up (on film) pretty easily, really."

Vikings wake-up call: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings' training camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings will hold their first of three night practices during training camp, moving into Blakeslee Stadium to work under the lights from 7:30 to 9:30. It won't be a scrimmage, per se; coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings will have a live goal-line period, which will be the first such work we have seen in camp, but the practice otherwise won't be much different than the Vikings' afternoon practices.

The team will start the day with a walk-through from 10:30-11:30, and come back with a night practice before an off-day on Tuesday.

More observations from Sunday's practice:
  • Floyd
    Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd dropped weight in the offseason, as he prepares to play a larger role in the Vikings' defense, and is hoping to turn into the kind of stalwart three-technique tackle that Geno Atkins was in Mike Zimmer's defense. Floyd said he watched tape of Atkins in the offseason, but "I can't really mimic what he does. That's his style of play," he said. "I have to take the defense and make it my style of play." Zimmer said he wasn't worried about Floyd slimming down from about 310 pounds to 303. Defensive end Brian Robison has been trying to work with Floyd, pointing out the times when he'll beat a blocker, but slip back into a position that allows linemen to re-engage him. Floyd said it's a matter of "me finishing at the top of my rush. Lately I've been winning, and then at the top, I'd turn my body the wrong way."
  • Cornerback Jabari Price has continued to surprise in training camp after the Vikings picked him in the seventh round last spring; he was flagged for a pass interference penalty on Sunday, but has received some first-team slot cornerback snaps with Captain Munnerlyn out and has shown he isn't afraid to be aggressive in his first camp. "I'm just trying to find ways to contribute," Price said. "I want my teammates to be able to trust me. Putting the pads on is a way to showcase a talent of mine."
  • With Chase Ford out because of a broken foot, tight end A.C. Leonard got some first-team snaps in a two-tight end set alongside Kyle Rudolph; Leonard, who ran a 4.43 40 coming out of college, is built more like a big slot receiver than a tight end, and could make the team as a receiving threat now that Ford seems likely to begin the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
What I'm watching: Zimmer said on Sunday that the Vikings will talk during Tuesday's off day about increasing practice snaps for some players and dialing them back for others, as the Vikings start to get an idea of what their first-team offensive and defensive units look like heading into next Friday's preseason opener. It will be interesting to see, for example, if Robert Blanton's early work as a first-team safety holds up, or if the Vikings have just been using the early part of camp to get a longer look at him. As the Vikings practice on Monday night, it will be an opportunity for some players to assert themselves heading into the coaches' conversations on Tuesday.

They said it: "A lot about strength is from your butt and your legs and your base and your pad level and those things. Obviously, the bigger you are, it's a little bit easier. But typically the bigger you get, you're not as quick as you were." -- Zimmer, on Floyd still being strong enough to handle the tackle position at a lighter weight.

Countdown to Combine: Vikings

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome to our Vikings-specific preview of the NFL scouting combine, which kicks off on Thursday in Indianapolis. We'll be previewing four positions this week the Vikings could address in the draft. I'm inclined to stay away from the quarterback position, since we've talked so much about it already (and will continue to talk about it). This can be a place to look at the other areas the Vikings could address, many of them being on defense. We'll get started there, with a look at the defensive line.

Position of need: Defensive line

The Vikings could be facing a time of transition at the position, with both Jared Allen and Kevin Williams set to hit free agency after burnishing their Hall of Fame credentials in their time in Minnesota. Defensive end Everson Griffen is a free agent, as well, though the Vikings seem likely to re-sign him. But the team could still be in the market for a taller defensive end along the lines of the ends new coach Mike Zimmer had in Cincinnati, in addition to another defensive tackle.

Three players the Vikings might be targeting:

Louis Nix (DT), Notre Dame: Nix is an absolute load at nose tackle, and could give the Vikings the kind of impenetrable force they haven't had since Pat Williams. He could free Sharrif Floyd up to be the kind of upfield pass-rusher Zimmer had in Bengals' three-technique tackle Geno Atkins (and the Vikings had for many years in Kevin Williams). There are concerns about Nix's health after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and he could have knee problems at his size (6-foot-2, 342 pounds), but he'd immediately change the face of the Vikings' run defense.

Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota: The Vikings should know plenty about the 6-foot-6 Hageman already, and they could give him a chance to continue his career in TCF Bank Stadium, where they'll play the next two seasons. The 6-foot-6 Hageman profiles as an interior lineman. He might not be refined enough to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, where he'd be asked to rush around the edge, but his size and athleticism could pique the Vikings' interest, whether he'd be an interior lineman or merit a look on the outside.

Kony Ealy, Missouri: We're assuming Jadeveon Clowney will be gone by the time the Vikings pick at No. 8, but a player like Early or Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt could make sense if the Vikings are in the market for the kind of tall defensive ends new coach Mike Zimmer had in Cincinnati. Ealy had eight sacks last season, and at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, he'd give the Vikings a player with a similar physical profile to Allen, who is a free agent this spring.