EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For years, the Minnesota Vikings have built their defense on a front four that could stop the run up the middle and pressure the quarterback from the outside. So it's been striking this season to see Minnesota struggling to do either one effectively. In fact, the Vikings have had enough trouble pressuring opposing quarterbacks that they've had to ask for extra help.
They've sent five or more rushers on 64 dropbacks in five games so far this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's an average of 12.8 a game, after the Vikings did it only 148 times -- or 9.25 a game -- in 2012.
So how have the results been on the Vikings' blitzes? Actually, better than you'd think, considering how much risk they seem to be taking by devoting less help to an embattled secondary. Quarterbacks only have a 34.7 QBR when the Vikings send five or more, the ninth-lowest in the NFL. Linebackers Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway have combined for three of the team's 10 sacks, and the Vikings aren't routinely getting burned for big plays -- quarterbacks are averaging just 5.97 yards per pass attempt when the Vikings blitz.
"They enjoy being aggressive," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "If they enjoy it and it’s working, I’ll call it. I’m not so rigid that I have to just call coverage, I want to play what works. If it’s working, we’ll keep calling it. If not, we’ll do something else."
In general, though, it's probably not sustainable for the Vikings to dial up many blitzes. They're hardly among the league's most aggressive teams there -- 20 of the NFL's 32 teams have sent at least five pass rushers more often than the Vikings have -- but when they're playing Cover-2 defense, it typically works best for them to get home with four pass-rushers. In other words, the blitzes can be a change of pace, but they probably can't account for half of the Vikings' sacks, as they've done so far.
If Minnesota gets the kind of production it's accustomed to from Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen, the blitzes can probably be even more lethal. If not? The Vikings might have a tough time winning in spite of their other defensive issues.