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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Film: Vikings’ defense gets ‘aggressive’ with Rodgers, empties tank in win vs. Packers

By Andrew Krammer

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It took everything they had to finally dethrone the Packers.

Reported scenes of a couple players throwing up on the sideline illustrates how Everson Griffen, Tom Johnson and the defense depleted their energy in one of their longest games of the season. The Vikings were pinned on the field for 35 minutes and 42 seconds against Aaron Rodgers, flustering him through a game plan featuring a healthy dose of blitz – a tweak from their loss to Green Bay earlier this season.

The Vikings held the Packers to 117 yards before the fourth quarter.

“We tried to stay aggressive,” Zimmer said. “When it got down in there, we played a little bit more coverage, which took away some of their throws they were trying to make. Everson [Griffen] made an unbelievable sack on that one – great effort play. And there was a lot of that going on, there was a lot of great-effort things last night.”

Griffen and Johnson wreaked havoc on a banged-up Packers’ offensive line, combining for seven of the 11 hits on Rodgers. The pass rush got a boost by the blitz, with a five-man rush rate of 35 percent [18 of 51] helping to lead to five sacks – including two critical takedowns by Griffen that effectively forced an 11-point swing between his forced fumble, returned by Captain Munnerlyn for a touchdown, and third-down sack to facilitate a late Packers field goal.

Playing without nose tackle Linval Joseph, the Vikings leaned on Johnson and defensive end Brian Robison to plug the interior. They’d also lost seldom-used nose tackle Kenrick Ellis to an ankle injury, thinning their options even further. An increased pass rush put trust in defensive backs to hold up in single coverage, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes capped one of the Vikings’ fourth-quarter stops with an interception on 4th-and-goal.

In Zimmer’s second year at the helm, the Vikings finished the regular season with their best scoring defense in 27 years, ranking 5th in points per game (18.9) and 13th in yards allowed (344.2).

Defensive sets & stats
Base: 25/79 [32%]
Nickel: 54/79 [68%]
Points: 13
Yards: 350
Sacks: 5
Takeaways: 2

The Vikings’ blitz rate increased nearly 20 percent from their first meeting in November. Off the injury report for the first time in eight weeks, linebacker Anthony Barr (76 of 79 snaps) was let loose. Barr blitzed Rodgers on 12 dropbacks, doubling the six total blitzes they’d had against Green Bay in a 30-13 loss at TCF Bank Stadium, according to Pro Football Focus. Barr, the Vikings’ imposing linebacker, was a mismatch for Eddie Lacy and James Starks all over the field, tallying three QB hurries and a sack in his rushes and two tackles for losses — one each on Lacy and Starks. Griffen (68) had a monster outing against Josh Sitton, who moved from left guard to left tackle for the inactive David Bakhtiari. Griffen used his speed to take advantage of the slower Sitton, who’s used to working in tighter spaces. He sped around Sitton to knock the ball out of Rodgers’ hand in the third quarter, leading to the game-deciding fumble recovery for a touchdown. Griffen led all players with four QB hits and two sacks. Johnson (72) saw a career-high in playing time, and produced against both Lane Taylor, the Packers’ replacement left guard making his second career start, and stalwart T.J. Lang. Johnson had three QB hits and even dropped into coverage on a fourth-quarter rush that led to Barr’s sack.

Image (below): On this 2nd-and-11, the Vikings blitz and overload Rodgers’ right side. To contain the scramble, Robison (96) runs a long stunt toward left guard and Griffen (97) takes a wide angle and waits for Rodgers to react.

Video (below): Barr works past Starks to pressure Rodgers, helping to force an incompletion.

Video (below): The Vikings mixed up the rushes, sending just three on this 3rd-and-9 stop. To counter Rodgers’ scramble, they spy Robison (96), who chases him to force the throwaway and punt.

The pressure forced five throwaways from Rodgers. Rhodes (79) allowed just three catches on seven targets, sticking to James Jones on a failed 4th-down attempt before halftime. Rhodes made two critical plays to help seal the game: a 4th-and-goal interception and an open-field tackle on Richard Rodgers, stalling a tight end screen in bounds with 15 seconds remaining. James Jones sped past Terence Newman (79) on the Packers’ two longest plays, both in the second half: a 32-yard go route down the sideline and a 37-yard post route. Captain Munnerlyn (54) made the heads-up play to scoop what initially looked like an incompletion and score on a 55-yard fumble return. Harrison Smith (79) is seldom targeted, but was manipulated by Aaron Rodgers’ eyes on the 16-yard touchdown to Richard Rodgers.

Image (below): Barr and Kendricks blitz and ultimately seven Vikings rush Rodgers on this 4th-and-5 attempt, leaving all three corners in man-to-man coverage.

Video (below): Rodgers unsuccessfully targets Jones on Rhodes.

They held Eddie Lacy to six yards on six carries after the opening drive. Linebacker Eric Kendricks (79) showed up on the big stage with one of his best outings – tallying three run stops, a QB hurry and flashing his speed in coverage. With the Packers in hurry-up mode before halftime, Kendricks faked a blitz over center and sped to the flat tackling Richard Rodgers behind the line to force 4th-and-5. Kendricks showed off strength as well, driving guard T.J. Lang back twice in run support, including a two-yard stop on James Starks in the first half. Kendricks finished with nine tackles. Linebacker Chad Greenway (28) saw some heavy lifting before the Packers went pass-heavy at the end. Greenway embodied the Vikings’ hardnosed play against the run, wrapping up Lacy for a 1-yard loss two plays before he stopped fullback John Kuhn in the hole on a 4th-and-inches conversion. Safety Andrew Sendejo (79) was active against the run, leading all tacklers and tallying two run stops.

Video (below): Griffen gets the jump on Sitton inside, tackling Lacy for a five-yard loss in the third quarter.

Sharrif Floyd (55) made his fourth career start at nose tackle, and helped stall a Packers offense looking to run between the tackles. A Green Bay first down was called back when Floyd drew a holding penalty on center Corey Linsley. The ensuing 3rd-and-12 resulted in Munnerlyn’s 55-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Though Floyd may have not seen as many doubles as Linval Joseph would’ve drawn, he slipped off blocks and made his presence known inside. Floyd had two run stops and sacked a scrambling Rodgers on 2nd-and-goal, two plays before Rhodes’ end-zone interception. Brian Robison (66) had a quiet day against Bryan Bulaga, seeing more work at defensive tackle with the Vikings down to just Floyd and Johnson inside. Rookie Danielle Hunter (47) chased down Davante Adams on a 24-yard catch and run, but otherwise didn’t stand out much on Sunday night.

Video (below): Floyd and Greenway close the gap on this 4th-and-inches conversion, with Lacy only converting after Richard Rodgers (82) shoves him over the line.

Game ball: Griffen — His relentless rush often forced Rodgers out of the pocket and opened up opportunities for teammates when he didn’t make the play himself. His athleticism was a stark contrast against the slower Sitton, a guard playing tackle. Honorable mention: Kendricks, Johnson, Rhodes

Goat(s): N/A

The post Film: Vikings’ defense gets ‘aggressive’ with Rodgers, empties tank in win vs. Packers appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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