Mike Zimmer’s system frequently employs a variety of blitzes, most notably the double-A gap look with linebackers and/or safeties. As such, one would expect the Vikings to be one of the more effective blitzing teams in football. And they did not disappoint in 2017. Minnesota was the top blitzing defense in one sense last season as they had the lowest opposing passer rating in blitz passing situations. Opposing quarterbacks had a rating of only 63.56 when the Vikings blitzed, eight points lower than the next best team.
Surprisingly, Minnesota was not among the best blitzing teams with regard to bringing the quarterback down. They recorded a sack on just 6.35 percent of blitzes, 25th in the league. They were also in the bottom half in terms of opponent blitz passing attempts. So in all actuality, the Vikings blitzed considerably less than Zimmer’s reputation would suggest. Even so, when they did blitz, opponents had little success throwing the ball. That is a testament not only to the pass rush and the secondary, but also to the confusion that Zimmer’s schemes cause opponents.
Learning that a Zimmer defense excels at something is not a surprise. However, flying under the radar is the Vikings’ offense in blitz situations. Unbeknownst to many, they were actually among the best in football at handling the blitz.
In fact, the Vikings’ offense actually benefited from being blitzed in 2017. According to STATS, Minnesota had a passer rating of 108.36 in blitz passing situations, good for second in the NFL. Additionally, they had the second-most passing yards on blitzes, tied for the most touchdowns and the lowest sack percentage. And all of this success came with the fourth-most passing attempts against the blitz, so it is not a matter of small sample size.
A number of factors could point to this. The Viking offensive line was 16th in pass protection last season, but they clearly excel in blitz pick-up. Additionally, all three running backs, especially rookie Dalvin Cook, were excellent pass blockers last season. There was also the matter of Case Keenum‘s escapability, which was near tops in the league last season.
But probably most importantly, it was play calling that contributed to a lethal counter to the blitz. Pat Shurmur’s west coast scheme put his quarterback in the best position to get the ball out quickly and in rhythm, negating the blitz. Given that John DeFilippo comes from the same schematic tree, one would assume the Vikings will again be successful in similar situations. DeFilippo’s Eagles squad was top-10 last year in both passer rating and total yards when blitzed, as were the Redskins with Kirk Cousins at quarterback. While not quite as elite as 2017 Minnesota, that combination still figures to be a weapon when teams bring extra pressure.