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2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Vikings Defense, Almost Unrecognizable

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On September 20th, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Minnesota Vikings. In this Week 2 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

All time our Colts have a 17-7-1 record against the Vikings. All things considered that’s a pretty solid record. The last time the Colts lost to the Vikings was back in December of 1997. Jim Harbaugh wasn’t known for wearing khakis, Bill Polian was employed by the Carolina Panthers and Peyton Manning had yet to star in a single commercial. Those days are long gone and in the four years it’s been since our Colts beat the Vikings 34 to 6, almost nothing in the NFL is the same.

Let’s see what we can expect in week two.


Defense:

Mike Zimmer used to be famous for his 4-3 double-A gap blitz system. Over time things have changed and while you’ll still see a double-A gap look before the snap, those days seem to be in the past.

Coming into the season Zimmer hired Dom Capers as a Senior Defensive Assistant. This is important as Capers is famous for his 3-4 defense. Now, the Vikings haven’t “switched to a 3-4” but they did bring Capers in for a specific reason and to be completely honest with you, I can’t really figure it out.

Zimmer also promoted Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer to be co-defensive coordinators. The truth is the defensive system is changing in Minnesota and after one game and still no all-22 film to review I can’t really even begin to tell you how it’s changed. Instead I’ll give you a look at what the Vikings did last year.

On December 15, 2019 the Minnesota Vikings took on the Los Angeles Chargers. This is important because the current starting quarterback of our Indianapolis Colts, Philip Rivers was starting for the Chargers a year ago. I took a look at that game to figure out how the Vikings attacked our quarterback and a similar offense in week 15 last year.

Before I get too deep into the clips just know that the Chargers turned the ball over seven (not a typo) times. To be fair the 2020 Vikings defense is VASTLY different from a personnel standpoint. I believe some of the scheme will no doubt carry over but the Colts are sure to get some unscouted looks on Sunday. That said these clips are valuable due to the carryover of Zimmer’s system and how Philip Rivers played it in the recent past.

Man coverage

The Vikings did play some zone but they were mostly in man to man coverage. Twice on the first drive Rivers threw balls up for his big receivers to go get. Hopefully Michael Pittman Jr. can be used in a similar way this week.

Man Coverage Again

I easily could have included this in the section on linebackers, but the Vikings are happy to let Eric Kendricks go one on one in coverage, as the first team all pro from a year ago is excellent in coverage.

The first sign of trouble

There’s not a lot to say about this play. I just hope Jonathan Taylor carries the ball high and tight this weekend.

Out Routes

The Vikings give up a lot of receptions near the sidelines. I noticed it in this game as well as their 2020 contest with the Packers. That could be coincidence, or it could be worth noting. One thing that is worth noting is that Rivers made a ton of pre snap adjustments in this game and early on he was dealing.

Too Easy On Third Down

The Vikings made this play way too easy on third down. Had they dropped someone into coverage who showed blitz before the snap they might have been able to stop this play. As it happened the Chargers created a little traffic and the slant in the middle of the field was wide open for the first down.

Missing His Help

I believe Eric Kendricks believed he had help over the top. I believe he probably should have. Instead the defensive back abandoned his zone to chase a crossing receiver which opened a hole for Rivers to fit in a pass to the running back. This was a great play design and fantastic recognition by Rivers.

Go Get It

Again, I really hope we get to see what Michael Pittman Jr. can do on the goal line this week. After the PAT the Chargers are up 10-9 with 8:42 left to go in the second quarter. Philip Rivers can do no wrong and it looks like it might be a long day for the Vikings secondary.

Then This Happened

It was a bad decision with just over two minutes to go in the half. Even still this mistake wasn’t insurmountable. All of the mistakes that followed... were.

Welp

After Kirk Cousins gifted the Chargers the ball right back with an interception of his own, this happened. As it turns out this is the precise moment that the wheels fell off for the Chargers.

The First Play Of The Second Half

You want analysis? “If you don’t want to fumble, you’ve got to hold on to the ball.” -John Madden, probably.

It’s Just Ridiculous At This Point

Do you think Philip Rivers was having an existential crisis at this moment? I’m pretty sure he was. These are the questions he was probably asking; Why are we here? Who even invented this dumb game? How did this many Vikings fans get to LA? Maybe I should have been a farmer?

Garbage Time

I tried so hard and got so far but in the end It doesn’t even matter. I had to fall to lose it all but in the end It doesn’t even matter -Linkin Park

I like to imagine this song is playing when I see garbage time interceptions. Philip Rivers is trying so hard, but that interception doesn’t even matter.

Garbage Time #2

I’ve put my trust in you pushed as far as I can go for all this there’s only one thing you should know. I tried so hard and got so far but in the end it doesn’t even matter. I had to fall to lose it all but in the end it doesn’t even matter - Linkin Park

Rivers’ last outing against this team went about as poorly as anyone could imagine. He made some great plays as well as one bad mistake that resulted in an early interception. His offensive line decided to play golf one down which resulted in a strip sack. Rivers numbers look bad in this game but there were so many factors that went in to this game being an absolute mess, it’s tough to place blame anywhere near the feet of the quarterback.

This Sunday we could see a defense that plays a lot like the 2019 Vikings or we might see something almost completely different. My lack of evidence is making it impossible to give you a better answer to these questions. I’ll do better as the season goes on, if you’ll let me.


Defensive Line:

What a mess.

In week one the Vikings only started one player upfront that was a full time starter for them in 2019 and even then it was assumed by some the team would try to upgrade defensive tackle Shamar Stephen in the offseason. In the end the three other week one starters; Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes and Jaleel Johnson, started a grand total of three games between them in 2019.

Now, that’s not to say they weren’t productive in their 2019 roles, Odenigbo racked up 7 sacks and Johnson had 3.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss and 29 total tackles.

Of course I would way off base if I failed to mention the Vikings addition of Yannick Ngakoue from Jacksonville just a few short weeks ago. Ngakoue didn’t start in week one but he did play more than 50% of the teams defensive snaps.

Adding to the impact felt by the roster turnover is Danielle Hunter’s injury. Hunter was placed on injured reserve before the season kicked off and in the bizarre world that is 2020, that means he’ll miss at least another two games. So breathe easy Colts fans, Hunter won’t get a chance to improve on his back to back 14.5 sack seasons against Anthony Castonzo this year.

With only one game so far in 2020, my information is limited but let’s get to what I saw in week one.

Got To Set The Edge

The Vikings struggled to set the edge in week one. The Packers had multiple outside runs (receptions, technically) go for nice gains. The Vikings struggled to deal with the outside runs and misdirection to the backside of the play.

They Gave Up Almost 5 Yards Per Rush

The Packers were able to get good movement up front most of the day. There were absolutely plays where the Vikings filled their gaps and shut down runs but they remained steadfast in their commitment to the run.

If the Colts want to have any success on Sunday they cannot abandon the run after a few unsuccessful attempts.

Still Struggling

By the offensive line giving a zone step to the left the defensive line has to move to stay in their gap in case Aaron Rogers hands it off rather than pitching it to the man in motion. As a result the linebackers are unable to get where they need to be and these Viking defensive backs didn’t do a great job preventing nice gains.

Pass Rush

Sacks are a quarterback stat. With that said the quality of your offensive line can and does impact sack numbers, greatly. Having said that the Vikings had zero sacks in week one. Part of that is the fact that Aaron Rogers didn’t get himself in trouble and he got the ball out before he took any losses. Part of it is the Packers offensive line and part of it is absolutely on the Vikings defensive line.

Having as much turnover as the Vikings have had combined with Danielle Hunter’s injury has limited what the front four of the Vikings will be able to do early in the season. Hopefully they don’t figure out how to fix their issues until week three.


Linebackers:

I’ve already talked about all pro linebacker Eric Kendricks (you’ll notice him all over the field on Sunday) but the Vikings have another very good player in Anthony Barr. Both Kendricks and Barr played 100% of the teams defensive snaps in week one. Barr is a four time pro bowler and nearly signed with the New York Jets in the off season, after agreeing to a deal that would pay him more than $15 million per year he realized he would rather make less money and not play for the Jets.

A wise move.

We can also expect to see a healthy dose of Eric Wilson. Wilson played 56% of the teams snaps in week one, he finished the game with three solo tackles and a forced fumble.

Getting Pressure

The Vikings aren’t afraid to send five or six defenders. If you are placing prop bets on this game and you can bet on the number of times Rivers checks down or hits a hot route, take the over.

Speed

Watching Eric Kendricks play is a lot of fun. He is constantly in the middle of plays in both the run and pass. His speed and athleticism makes that possible. This play isn’t the biggest hit, he didn’t create a turnover but I expect to see a purple 54 flying around all day just like in this clip.


Defensive Backs:

The back end of the Vikings defense looks much different than it did a year ago. What hasn’t changed are starting safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. Both players are stars in their own right, though Smith is probably better known to most NFL fans. Harris had six interceptions in 2019 and the Vikings deemed him too important to lose in free agency so they slapped the sixth year pro with the franchise tag.

When we look at the corner backs the Vikings played in week one; Cameron Dantzler, Holton Hill, Mike Hughes and Jeff Gladney, they share just 11 NFL starts among them. By the end of the season this group could prove to be very good but week one was rough. The group struggled to defend against Davante Adams’ route running or Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s size.

Man Coverage from 2019

It doesn’t say it in the box score but this was a coverage sack. This clip doesn’t do a single thing to show what the 2020 team can do but here is the Colts starting quarterback unable to find anyone open and needing to take a sack. It was just basic man coverage.

In Good Position

It’s tough to play this route better, but over time Cam Dantzler will. It wasn’t bad coverage it was just an experienced receiver getting a step on a rookie corner and a great quarterback putting the ball where it needed to go. Hopefully T.Y. Hilton and Philip Rivers can take advantage of the same inexperience.

Holton Hill Got Smoked (small joke)

I believe T.Y. Hilton should be able to get open early and often in this game. We haven’t seen enough of Paris Campbell or Michael Pittman Jr. to know what they can give us but after watching Valdes-Scantling torch these DB’s last week I hope the Colts try to test the group going forward.

For the most part it was a rough week for the Vikings DB’s. They’re going to play better as they become more experienced but I just hope they didn’t learn much in week one.


Final Thoughts:

The Colts offense seems to match up pretty well with the Vikings defense. That doesn’t mean much, as they also matched up pretty well on paper with the Jacksonville Jaguars defense. With that said their inexperience at cornerback gives me some hope. Their safeties do concern me and frankly I hope Philip Rivers avoids the deep middle like I avoid cooked spinach.

The defensive line seems like it might allow us to see what Jonathan Taylor can do with the ball in his hands and if he can out run Eric Kendricks, then we might have something, afterall.