Teeth of Vik­ings’ de­fense look­ing to drill Wentz

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

Fac­ing the dou­ble A gap blitz, at least for a quar­ter­back, is like de­cid­ing if you want a lo­cal anes­thetic be­fore the den­tist drills. Ei­ther way it’s go­ing to hurt.

And so it is for Car­son Wentz and the Ea­gles when they op­pose the Min­nesota Vik­ings this week­end.

Would you like that com­ple­tion with a full frontal hit or some­thing com­ing off the edge?

The Vik­ings live off the dou­ble A gap blitz pack­age fea­tur­ing lineback­ers stand­ing in the gaps be­tween the op­pos­ing cen­ter and guards. They’ve al­lowed just 12.6 points per game, least in the NFL. They top the league with 12 take­aways and have 18 sacks.

The scheme was used ex­ten­sively and ef­fec­tively by the late Jim John­son dur­ing his tour as de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor of the Birds.

“Ev­ery team in the NFL has a ver­sion of it,” Ea­gles cen­ter Ja­son Kelce said Thurs­day. “The NFL kind of goes in trends and this is huge over the past two or three years. The Vik­ings have so many dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions, so much more than anyone, which makes it that much more dif­fi­cult for you. And they’re very good at coach­ing the lit­tle nu­ances of it.”

Ea­gles of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Frank Re­ich would prob­a­bly pre­fer a less stren­u­ous as­sign­ment for rookie right tackle Hal Vaitai, who made his first start last week. It is, how­ever, what it is.

“When you go up against a (Mike) Zim­mer de­fense, it’s al­ways the big­gest chal­lenge of the year,” Re­ich said. “We have our work cut out for us.”

The Vik­ings typ­i­cally use the align­ment in pass­ing downs with the im­pos­ing An­thony Barr (6-5, 255) stand­ing in one A gap and in the other, Eric Ken­dricks, the younger brother of Ea­gles line­backer My­chal Ken­dricks. They also fill the gaps in non-pass­ing sit­u­a­tions. And some­times the lineback­ers walk into the gaps from dis­tance.

If Wentz is lined up di­rectly be­hind Kelce, he al­most cer­tainly is go­ing to get hit if the lineback­ers blitz be­cause the Ea­gles block­ers will be out­num­bered … Un­less, that is, he’s able to out­ma­neu­ver them.

But what if the Vik­ings fake the blitz, drop the lineback­ers and rush some­one off the edge to the spot Wentz es­capes to? What if they can bring four pass rush­ers to one side of the line, or two off the edge as they’ve done this year?

“Ob­vi­ously they’re well known for their dou­bleA pres­sures,” Wentz said. “They like to do dif­fer­ent things with it. Ob­vi­ously that poses prob­lems for of­fenses but you’ve just got to go into it with a plan. We’re cre­at­ing a re­ally good plan and we’ll be ready.”

The of­fen­sive plan is al­ways evolv­ing be­cause the Vik­ings lineback­ers don’t al­ways rush the passer. Some­times it’s just one line­backer com­ing. Other times you get the all-out jail­break blitz.

The mere pres­ence of the lineback­ers can dis­rupt the block­ing schemes of the line­men and the run­ning back or tight end help­ing in pass pro­tec­tion. It can screw up the tempo of the of­fense, the routes of the re­ceivers and the de­ci­sions of the quar­ter­back.

“You try to block, you try to max pro­tect and throw it down the field, try to throw it short, try to mix in dif­fer­ent things, quick pass, you’ve got to do it all,” Re­ich said. “You’ve got to pick two or three things that you’re go­ing to do, be very pro­fi­cient at it and mix it up a lit­tle bit so that they can’t zone in on what it is that you’re try­ing to do.”

The flip side is there are plays to be made against the dou­ble A gap blitz, par­tic­u­larly when the Vik­ings are in zero cov­er­age. How could you not like Birds wide re­ceiver Do­rial Green-Beck­ham, who rocks the field at 6-5, 237-pounds, against your ba­sic cor­ner­back?

“You’ve got to be alert,” DGB said. “I’ve got to be able to look and see if there’s a cor­ner blitz, a safety blitz. The quar­ter­back al­ways can check and give them a quick play, like a quick route or some­thing like that. For me it’s just one-on-one. Oneon-one, beat your de­fender and the ball is yours.”

Beat­ing the dou­ble A gap blitz pack­age is a lot eas­ier said than done. Not that it’s even easy to say.

Teams that do win bat­tles get big plays par­tic­u­larly if the Vik­ings pack the line of scrim­mage in their zero-blitz look.

“It’s one of those things where if ev­ery­body is up on the line of scrim­mage and you do run against it, it’s ei­ther a huge play or usu­ally a zero-yard gain,” Kelce said. “Once you break through that first wall of de­fense, you’re up on the safety. If you don’t …”

It helps the Ea­gles to be play­ing the Vik­ings at the Linc rather than us­ing the silent count in the new dome in Minneapolis. The de­fense is lethal in the dome.

Wentz clearly has cere­bral qual­i­ties beyond his five NFL starts. Truth be told, the Vik­ings have made es­tab­lished quar­ter­backs look silly this year in a sparkling 5-0 start. The list in­cludes reign­ing MVP Cam New­ton, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Man­ning, among oth­ers.

“We have our things that you try to plan to do to it and that we’ll do,” Re­ich said. “But you can’t do the same thing ev­ery time be­cause they are mak­ing ingame ad­just­ments to what you’re do­ing and we are mak­ing in-game ad­just­ments to what they’re do­ing. Some­times you’re go­ing to hit it right and we’ll get the big play. Other times, we tell our guys, ‘Hey, they might get us once or twice. We have to get up off the can­vas and get back into third-and-man­age­able or punt the ball, don’t turn it over, and let’s just keep play­ing ball.’”

Kelce is so geared up for this test he barely has thought about the sore foot that shelved him ear­lier in the week.

“It’s go­ing to be a blast,” said Kelce, who prac­ticed fully Thurs­day. “This is one of the best de­fenses, ar­guably the best de­fense, in the NFL right now. This is go­ing to be a good chal­lenge for us.”

TOM E. PUSKAR — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vik­ings in­side line­backer Eric Ken­dricks (54), the younger brother of Ea­gles line­backer My­chal Ken­dricks, has been par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive in the dou­ble A gap blitz dur­ing Min­nesota’s 5-0 start this sea­son.

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