Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Upon Further Review: Vikings' Defense vs. Seattle

Photo: Fox Sports

After analyzing the offense, Daniel House looks at the defensive film from the Vikings' second preseason game. 

by: Daniel House 

(videos provided by NFL Gamepass)

In the first part of my film review series, I highlighted the key trends and takeaways from Sunday's preseason game against Seattle. Now, I have focused my attention on the defense.

Minnesota's defensive line struggled to get pressure, but the coaches were experimenting with different packages and groupings. At one point, we saw an interesting look with defensive end Stephen Weatherly standing up inside at the 2i technique near the A-gap. As I noted in an offseason post, I think the Vikings should experiment with creative alignments to fully maximize Weatherly’s potential. Outside of potentially lining him up on the edge, Minnesota can kick him inside on pass rushing downs. In the example below, the Vikings overloaded the formation. Weatherly crashed hard and they brought Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks off blitzes. Despite this unique design, none of them got to Russell Wilson. Nonetheless, Kendricks pressured Wilson and prevented him from following through. This altered Wilson's throw and caused it to sail high.

Despite issues with the timing and success of the package, it’s encouraging to see the Vikings’ coaches trying these type of looks in practice. On Tuesday, Mike Zimmer said Weatherly needs to work on the technique associated with standing up. He said he’s looking up, peering into the backfield and not really using his power and leverage. In that last example, you see him crashing, but not getting much interior push. The coaches will be working on the technical components of Weatherly’s game to determine whether they can use him in this role. If they can find a way to line him up in different ways, Weatherly, Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks could be used on the field together. During pass rushing downs, Hercules Mata’afa can also play three-technique to overload teams with speed, athleticism and range. Right now, it’s in the experimental stages, but they are trying different packages to get after the quarterback. They could continue to tweak alignments, such as standing up Weatherly on the edge, too. During the preseason, coaches will likely determine whether this is possible, or if he’s best suited to primarily play five-technique.

When it comes to pressuring the quarterback, the Vikings were trying many different things and didn’t get much heat on Russell Wilson. He had time to move in the pocket and hit receivers downfield. There were also quite a few miscommunications in the secondary. I pulled out four examples where I noticed a potential coverage breakdown. It’s hard to completely tell what’s going on from these angles. However, the first clip features three players running to the same spot and clear confusion regarding the coverage. In the second clip, Anthony Harris is floating to the opposite hash and it looks like the coverage was possibly coming into his zone. Within the third play, it appears Mackensie Alexander thought he was passing off Jaron Brown into Harris’ zone. We don’t know the specific assignment, so it’s hard to say for certain whether Harris was a step late to cover these plays. Finally, in the last example, you’ll notice cornerback Trae Waynes appears to be signaling to pass off Tyler Lockett.

On Tuesday, Mike Zimmer noted there were a few miscommunications in the secondary and said it would be a point of emphasis in practice this week.

Safety Harrison Smith sits back in the Vikings’ defense and diagnoses everything going on. It’s so fascinating to watch him live or on All-22 cuts. He’s constantly making adjustments and getting the defense aligned correctly. Earlier in the game, Seattle ran a nearly identical play featuring a shallow crossing route to Tyler Lockett (the play featured in the last clip of the coverage breakdown video).

Seattle tries it again, but Harrison Smith diagnoses the play and beautifully breaks up the pass. Smith is one of the game’s best because of his football IQ and leadership skills. It doesn’t matter if it’s a preseason game – No. 22 is playing hard.

The Vikings haven’t seen any snaps from Linval Joseph or Shamar Stephen in the preseason. It’s provided them with an opportunity to evaluate both Jalyn Holmes and Jaleel Johnson. There are some reps where you can see Holmes trying to develop his skills against the run. This is the biggest area where the Vikings’ defense must improve in 2019. When they stop the run, it allows them to take advantage of their pass rush in long downs. Last year, the chunk running plays the defense allowed drastically impacted the unit’s success. At times, I’ve noticed Jalyn Holmes and Jaleel Johnson struggling to fight through blocks at the point of attack. The clip below is a zone running play where the guard and center win against Johnson. Due to that, the guard is able to scrape into the second level and open another crease. The preseason games are giving this duo a chance to learn through live experience.

Out of all the players at training camp, Ifeadi Odenigbo might have put together the best and most consistent performance. He has drastically improved and is flashing in preseason games, too. In this game, he uses speed to power, dips his shoulder and bends around the corner for a sack. Odenigbo was creating pressure the entire night and never quits on the play. In the second clip below, you’ll notice how his effort and closing speed led to a throwaway. He could be a big weapon for the Vikings as a third down rotational pass rusher.

Another player who has emerged on the defensive line is defensive tackle Armon Watts. He has been flashing throughout camp and the preseason, but is still working to develop consistency. Watts’ best performance came during Sunday’s preseason game. He logged a few pressures and made a physical run stop. Watts got great push by long-arming the offensive linemen and winning the leverage battle. He then managed to shed and make the play. If Watts can show enough versatility as a rusher and run defender, he could push for a roster spot. However, considering the current landscape of the defensive line group, it’s going to be difficult.

At safety, Jayron Kearse continues to show how much he’s improved. In camp, he was playing fast and confidently within the system. In the past, you could tell he was just trying to adjust and learn all of the details. Now, he’s developed comfort with his responsibilities and is being used around the box. In Sunday’s game, he had two physical plays against the run and flashed his range to chase things down. Kearse has also made strides in coverage and may play a big role in the defense’s “physical nickel” package. When the Vikings used Kearse in the nickel role, they had three safeties on the field. It helped them better defend physical tight ends and wide receivers. With teams starting to run more 12 personnel to create mismatches vs. base packages, many teams will start to counter by playing this type of physical nickel package. When Kearse is used in this role, it’s beneficial because of his range and ability to stop the run. If teams indeed try to run against this set, he can provide support in that area. After watching camp, one could argue Kearse and Mackensie Alexander are two of the most improved players on the roster.

Overall, there were coverage miscommunications to clean up and the run defense still has room to improve. Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen will return soon, which should help elevate the interior’s physicality. On the defensive line, there will be tough cuts, especially considering the log-jam of players who have potential. The one big area where they could still improve is at cornerback. We haven’t had a chance to see Kris Boyd in games, but if he doesn’t emerge, the team may need to look for a cornerback to sign after roster cuts. At this time, Mike Hughes’ return date is unknown, which may also impact the team’s personnel approach.

For an "Upon Further Review" of the offense against Seattle, click here!


  1. Thanks Daniel....not much 1st team pass rush without bringing extra guys. Going to be some interesting roster moves.

  2. You have by far the best and most technical reviews. I know you are probably a one man show but I sure hope you get some sponsors so we can more of this great insight.