Ruling the blitz

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
7:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- This is what happens when you have a young quarterback, and MVP-caliber tailback and a defensive coordinator who is always looking for new ways to bring pressure: A blitz followed by another blitz and another. Then, a short respite. Finally, one more blitz for good measure.

In its regular season finale, Minnesota faced some form of blitz on four of every five plays. According to the Vikings' film study, New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo blitzed on 80 percent of their 55 offensive plays. That's an extraordinary number even for an aggressive defensive scheme; blitzing on 50 percent of downs is usually considered high.

There were plenty of factors in that uptick, among then Spagnuolo's hope to give future playoff opponents new looks to prepare for But it's worth noting that Spagnuolo's mentor is Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who bring the original form of that blitzing style Sunday to the Metrodome to face the Vikings.

"I don't have any illusions about it," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "If we saw about 80 percent [from New York], we might see 90 percent come next Sunday."

That sentiment represents a bit of gamesmanship between Childress and Johnson, who were once assistants together on the Eagles' staff. But there is little doubt the Eagles will test Minnesota's ability to handle blitzers coming from all angles of the field. More specifically, can quarterback Tarvaris Jackson handle it without being pressured into mistakes?

"You just treat it like a blitz drill," Jackson said. "We know they are pretty much going to do the same stuff as New York as far as blitzing. They're liable to bring anything so we have to be ready for everything."

Here are the facts:

  • Johnson called the third-most blitzes in the NFL this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
  • Jackson ranked No. 43 in the NFL this season against the blitz based on passer rating, according to STATS, Inc. Jackson completed 50 percent of his passes and took six sacks in 42 plays against the blitz this season for a 70.8 rating.

(In case you're wondering, Vikings backup Gus Frerotte performed much worse against the blitz. According to STATS, Frerotte threw six interceptions and took 14 sacks in 100 plays against the blitz for a 43.3 passer rating.)

Not every blitz is designed for pass rush, of course. With tailback Adrian Peterson in the Vikings' backfield, the Giants and Eagles use blitz formations to add help for the rush defense at the line of scrimmage. "They can be just as disruptive as anything," Childress said.

So how do the Vikings plan to combat the blitz? According to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, it's been a "rules week" in practice. In other words, coaches are stressing that players block their assigned man regardless of the look they see from the opposing defense. Freelancing only compounds the pressure.

"When we face a team like this," Bevell said, "we tell the guys it's a rules week. You have to go by your rules because people want to start rigging it. ... You have to go by your rules and let the rules take care of it."

This much seems clear: The rules will get a workout Sunday.

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