Since Mike Zimmer arrived in 2014, the Vikings’ defense has maintained continuity. With all of the experience and chemistry on the field, adjustments and disguises are easy to make. Whether it’s a pre-snap shift, or late blitz call, these players know the system and can make adjustments on the fly.
During Sunday’s 28-10 win over the Giants, head coach Mike Zimmer dialed up pressure packages. With so much talent in the front-seven, Zimmer has the flexibility to take advantage of weekly mismatches. Defensive end Everson Griffen has returned to form, Danielle Hunter is getting after the quarterback, Anthony Barr has been rushing off the edge more and Eric Kendricks is having a career year. All of these variables allowed the Vikings’ pass rush to disrupt rookie quarterback Daniel Jones.
When the Vikings were in third-down situations, Mike Zimmer dialed up stunts and a couple different blitz looks. The Giants’ offensive line struggled to communicate and pick them up. There were several instances where guards would look at a tackle and just throw their hands in the air. Linebacker Anthony Barr was a big part of the Vikings’ defensive scheme and created pressure all day. In the clip below, Barr stunts from the edge and teams up with Everson Griffen for a sack. He took three steps upfield, waited for Danielle Hunter to draw a double-team and stunted inside up the A-gap.
Later in the game, Mike Zimmer dialed up the same stunt again. New York was having so much trouble blocking Danielle Hunter and needed help the entire game to slow him. The Giants doubled him again and Barr stunted into the A-gap for a quarterback pressure. Eric Kendricks was also blitzing into the A-gap, which forced the running back to pick him up. This created a crease for Anthony Barr to get in Daniel Jones’ face.
These type of looks continued throughout the game. Anthony Barr sold the A-gap blitz, Linval Joseph got interior penetration and Barr stunted to the B-gap for a quarterback hit. When the Vikings use Barr’s versatility, it adds another element to a defensive front filled with talented pass rushers.
Earlier, I mentioned this team’s ability to execute pre-snap adjustments and disguises. There were a few moments where last-second changes led to big plays. In the clip below, the defense bluffed Double A-gap pressure with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Safety Harrison Smith also moved into the box, but dropped back into coverage before the snap. Everson Griffen used his classic spin move and drew a holding penalty. Griffen again impacted a countless number of plays and has been one of the team’s most consistent performers.
In the clip below, Griffen hit left tackle Nate Solder with a spin move and sacked Daniel Jones. He has been having so much success with this pass rushing move and has picked up multiple sacks when using it.
Griffen also used a bull-rush to back Solder into Daniel Jones. On the opposite side, Anthony Barr again ran a stunt with Danielle Hunter. It was one of the few times it was picked up correctly, but both Griffen and Hunter got pressure off the edge.
The other pre-snap adjustment came when the Giants were backed up deep in their own territory. Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter made a last-second alignment shift and Anthony Barr shot up the A-gap for a safety. These type of shifts and adjustments are the result of Minnesota’s defense having such strong continuity and familiarity with the scheme. Mike Zimmer was dialing up a variety of different looks to create pressure and confusion.
He also mixed up the personnel and aligned both Stephen Weatherly and Ifeadi Odenigbo inside on pass rushing downs. In those looks, Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter were occasionally standing up on the edge. I pulled out a clip where Hunter was aligned on the edge and Weatherly/Odenigbo played inside. The front was preparing to deploy a stunt with Odenigbo penetrating and Griffen looping across. Odenigbo got so low and managed to dip/bend below the center. This was a phenomenal effort and helped Odenigbo tally his first NFL sack. This year, he has been thriving in a third-down situational pass rushing role. His technical growth and ability to use a blend of speed/power, make him a very difficult player to block.
The Giants tried to block Danielle Hunter with a tight end and it didn’t end well. Hunter pulled off the block and didn’t fall for Daniel Jones’ late pump-fake. Hunter sacked Jones and continued to draw attention the entire day.
New York brought two tight ends over to the edge and Hunter easily split the double-team for a run stop. Hunter commands so much attention both as a pass rusher and run defender. When this happens, it opens up the overall flexibility within Minnesota’s scheme.
At the linebacker position, Anthony Barr made a big impact in Sunday’s game. However, Eric Kendricks is probably playing at the most consistent level of his career. He is making a big difference in coverage and against the run. Kendricks is taking on blocks, showing off his range and making tough tackles. It’s hard to believe Kendricks is having a career year, but after watching every game via All-22, I’m starting to think it could be the case. In the clip below, Shamar Stephen took on a double-team and Kendricks flowed downhill for a run stop. Kendricks is not only rangy, but has the physicality to fight through blocks and make plays in traffic.
In coverage, Kendricks dropped back and knocked away a pass over the middle. In those situations, he has been doing an adequate job of covering wide receivers and tight ends. During this rep, he got into the passing lane against shifty slot receiver, Golden Tate. Kendricks continues to make plays all over the field and is one of the team’s most underrated players. Without him in the system, the defense would look very different.
Although cornerback Xavier Rhodes struggled, Mike Hughes is looking comfortable. After easing back from last season’s ACL tear, Hughes was making plays in Sunday’s win. He displayed textbook technique on a fade against wide receiver Cody Latimer. Hughes swiveled, stayed tight to Latimer throughout the route and got his head around. Moments later, he managed to get his hands into the passing lane.
Hughes is going to be a star in this defense because of his athleticism and blossoming technical skills. If he continues to make progress, Hughes will elevate the Vikings’ defense to another level.
Overall, the Vikings’ defensive front is playing at a very high level. In Sunday’s win, Mike Zimmer’s scheme maximized the team’s personnel. He was aggressive and will likely continue this trend against the Eagles. Philadelphia has allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the league, so manufacturing pressure will be important. This is especially the case when the Vikings are in third-and-long situations. The big key will be stopping the run and limiting yards after contact by running back Jordan Howard. Philadelphia’s offensive line is starting to click and has been an x-factor in recent wins. They do an incredible job of getting on the run, reaching defensive tackles and creating explosive plays. In order to completely take advantage of their personnel, the Vikings’ defense has to force Philadelphia into long pass rushing downs.
When they do, Mike Zimmer’s creativity can take over.