The firing of Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and two offensive line coaches Monday needs no explanation; after a game that saw the Minnesota Vikings sack Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford seven times, the writing was on the wall for a staff that’s failed to meet preseason expectations. Their blocking schemes — like asking a center to peel back and blindly cut off Everson Griffen — sent Stafford to the locker room for X-Rays after the game, and eventually led to their dismissal from the team before boarding Detroit’s flight to London.
The Vikings, led by Eric Kendricks and Everson Griffen, made life miserable for Stafford after the first quarter on Sunday. According to ESPN’s Ben Goessling, six of the seven Minnesota sacks came on blitzes, and each came after the first fifteen minutes of play. Kendricks finished the day with two sacks, while Griffen’s lone takedown came on the easiest play of his life — an untouched scamper into the small of Stafford’s back. As you can see from the conveniently composed tweet below, the Lions stood no chance against Mike Zimmer’s aggressive front-seven yesterday:
Here are NINE screencaps of the Lions OL not blocking anybody. pic.twitter.com/fqwz5DSUBu
— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) October 26, 2015
After Sunday’s win, Griffen leads all Vikings defenders with 4.5 sacks, and that’s after missing last week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. In a close second? Kendricks, with four sacks, all of which have come on blitzes. Behind them, Tom Johnson, Anthony Barr, and Chad Greenway round out the top five, with two, 1.5, and 1.5 sacks respectively.
Given Mike Zimmer’s penchant for blitzing (he blitzed Stafford on 41.7 percent of his dropbacks Sunday) and the success of his pressure packages, how likely is it that the Vikings crown a new “Sack Daddy” at season’s end?
As Andrew Krammer wrote at 1500 ESPN this morning, “Kendricks shouldn’t expect all sacks to come this easy, as he nabbed his two takedowns with untouched rushes.” Mike Zimmer adjusted his gameplan after falling behind 14-3 in the first quarter, sending linebackers on delayed blitzes and straying from four-man rushes that weren’t getting home. Since moving to the middle of the defense after the Gerald Hodges trade, Kendricks has thrived, with three of his sacks coming as a result of his increased playing time.
Griffen, meanwhile, was the beneficiary of poor blocking by the Lions and excellent blitz design by the Vikings coaching staff. They consistently put Griffen in situations to succeed, and Griffen made the most of his opportunities, easily beating Eric Ebron on the edge for his second sack of the day. The heart ailment that kept him off the field two weeks ago appears all but forgotten, as Griffen is continuing his strong play from 2014 through six games this season.
The Lions have one of the league’s worst offensive lines, likely making the Vikings’ performance Sunday the most productive they’ll have all year. Of their next five opponents, three rank in the bottom half of the league in Football Outsiders‘ adjusted sack rate statistic. The Rams give up a sack on 9.7 percent of drop backs, while the Packers and Raiders hover just above the league average of 6.2 percent. The Vikings, however, have 17 sacks on the season, good for top-10 status in the league. The quality of an offensive line is playing less of a factor as Zimmer’s players get better at blitzing and rushing the passer.
“Since I’ve been here, the one thing that I’ve been impressed with these guys, throughout the whole football team, but especially defensively is we have been able to move along at a little faster pace because of the intelligence that we have with our guys on defense. So some of the more complicated things that we do seem to be fairly easy for them.”
More than that, Mike Zimmer’s defense is producing sacks at all three levels, from the defensive line to the secondary — defensive ends and tackles have accounted for nine, linebackers seven, and safeties one. It’s not unreasonable to believe a linebacker like Eric Kendricks or Anthony Barr could finish 2015 as the team’s sack leader. If Zimmer continues his blitzing tendencies and Eric Kendricks continues to hit the quarterback, there may be a new “Sack Daddy” in Minnesota come January.