Teeth of Vikings’ defense looking to drill Wentz
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.”
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.