A Hidden Key to Unlocking the Vikings’ Pass Rush

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Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

After the initial 11 games of the season, it’d be fair to say that the Vikings’ pass rush has been good but not great. To be sure, there have been some great moments, and yet we can likely all agree that the team has the capacity to be generating more pressure. Is there any chance that backup DT Ross Blacklock can help spark some improvement?

First, a bit of background on what has been going on.

One of the ways the team can generate more pressure is by sending more blitzes. The team’s defense needs to adjust its strategy, so blitzing with more frequency is at least one thing to consider over these final 6 contests. According to ESPN’s pass-rush win rate, Minnesota is coming in at 27th overall, winning a mere 36% of the time. Perhaps a couple more blitzes per game will help.

Another thing to consider is changes in personnel.

We’re all looking forward to a healthier version of the Vikings. Simply getting Dalvin Tomlinson back onto the field ought to help. His ability to get a push up the middle will make life easier for the players coming off the edge.

The corners, moreover, have a part to play. Covering the opposition’s pass catchers for just a bit longer means the Vikings’ pass rush has more time to get to the QB. It may sound small, but it’s true. The quality of the secondary’s coverage can make a major difference on what is going on at the line of scrimmage.

With all that said, let’s bring things back around to Blacklock. The 2020 second rounder was originally with the Texans, but a trade brought him over to Minnesota. Clearly, the team’s leadership felt that he could contribute.

He has played in all 11 games for the Vikings. The Patriots game saw him get in on the highest percentage of the defense’s playing time; he was on the field for 31% of the snaps.

At the end of the game, Blacklock partnered with Za’Darius Smith to get a critically important sack on Mac Jones.

With less than a minute in the fourth quarter, the Patriots needed to march nearly the full length of the field to score a TD. Along the right side were Za’Darius Smith and Blacklock. The surprising thing is that Smith was lined up as a DT whereas Blacklock was the one at DE. Smith gets all kinds of attention, leaving Blacklock to a one-on-one matchup with NE’s LT. After an initial look inside, Blacklock continues up the field, eventually getting to the point where he can wrap his arms around Jones for the sack.

It was Blacklock’s first sack of the season and first as a Viking. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Now, I’m not trying to suggest that playing him more will magically cure all that ails the defense. Instead, I’m merely noting that he did excellently in a critical moment, leading to some questions about whether he could help the Vikings’ pass rush. With the game on the line, Donatell opted for his top three edge rushers – Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, and D.J. Wonnum – to be on the field alongside one DT: Ross Blacklock.

Quite often, the Vikings have avoided being too reliant on blitzes. Donatell seems far more content with relying on his front 4 to generate pressure. Doing so allows the DC to drop more men into coverage.

Perhaps Blacklock can keep partnering with the edge rushers, giving the team some much needed pressure to help support the injured secondary.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.