Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Vikings trending away from the blitz
By Kevin Seifert
It's been a crazy week here on the blog and it's not even close to being over. We spent time with the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions on Monday and Tuesday, and just as we settle back in Wednesday, we realize we've got another Vikings game staring us in the face Thursday.
Already, the Vikings have issued their final injury report of the week. (All players will be available except tight end John Carlson and safety Mistral Raymond.) But amid this quick turnaround, I want to circle back on the climax of a trend that no doubt added another layer of gameplanning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' short week.
As we noted Sunday and Monday, the Vikings recorded seven sacks Sunday without sending a blitz on any of the Arizona Cardinals' 69 snaps. It was an understandable, if extreme, schematic decision from defensive coordinator Alan Williams, given the strength of the Vikings' defensive line and the well-known mess the Cardinals' offensive line has made this season. But it was also rare, notable and worthy of further inspection.
As the chart shows, the database at ESPN Stats & Information shows five other occasions when a team has used its standard rush on every defensive snap over the past five seasons. In other words it happens about once a year. And before Sunday, it hadn't worked well. Those teams combined for seven sacks in five games.
There was a time when owners, general managers and head coaches pined for blitz-happy defenses that seemed to cause turnovers and make quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket. Now, at least in the NFC North, we're re-learning the value of sending four good pass-rushers and reserving the other seven players for coverage responsibilities.
The Vikings have evolved into a team more closely patterned after the Chicago Bears, who are the NFL's best example of finding maximum success with the standard rush. Here are the Vikings' blitz percentages in each of their first seven games, courtesy Michael Blunda of ESPN Stats & Information:
Week 1: 34.1
Week 2: 30.1
Week 3: 31.0
Week 4: 5.4
Week 5: 25.0
Week 6: 18.5
Week 7: 0.0
As you can see, Williams -- a first-time coordinator -- has powered down the blitzes over those seven weeks, mostly to the benefit of the Vikings' defense. Consider it our first real insight into Williams' thought process as a schemer and game-planner.
"He's become much more comfortable with our players and what their abilities are," Frazier said. "I mentioned to him, just prior to [Week 5], just the way he was conducting himself with our players and in the meetings, he's really, really grown in the short time we've been together and he's going to get better and better and in turn, our defense will benefit from him."
There isn't much reason to expect anything different Thursday night. Seven of the nine sacks Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman has taken have come against a four-man rush, along with three of his five interceptions.
The Vikings have four good pass-rushers up front in Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen in the nickel. Why not let them pound an opposing offensive line and allow the rest of the defense to swarm the pass routes? Sometimes, the simplest answer is the best one.