Luke Inman contributed to this story.
The Minnesota Vikings set the tone on the first defensive play from scrimmage against Daniel Jones and the New York Giants on Sunday in their 28-10 win. The plan: Bring pressure and fluster the rookie quarterback.
Harrison Smith came racing in on Jones’ first offensive snap on a safety blitz, and while Jones completed a quick pass out to the left for a five-yard gain, it foreshadowed a day of hurried throws against exotic blitzes as the Vikings brought more extra rushers than in any game this season. Jones finished 5 of 13 for 49 yards and a 49.8 passer rating with two sacks against the blitz.
Jones was blitzed 15 times (and twice more on plays nullified by penalty), substantially more than Mike Zimmer ordered Week 4 at Chicago, when they blitzed backup Chase Daniel six times and failed to force many negative plays in a 16-6 loss. Minnesota’s 24 pressures of Jones trailed only their 28 pressures of Matt Ryan in Week 1 for a season high.
“It was aggressive,” Zimmer said after the game about the team’s rush plan against the Giants. “We probably need to be that way a little more.”
The Vikings blitzed three times on New York’s opening drive, which ended in a punt. The most important pressure came from Anthony Barr, who came on a delayed blitz up the middle to hit Jones and force a slight overthrow that likely prevented a touchdown by Sterling Shepard.
Barr was everywhere on Sunday, lining up as an edge rusher 11 times and recording two pressures while adding an interception late in the fourth quarter. He also notched a sack on the opening drive, but it was wiped out by Anthony Harris’s illegal contact penalty.
The most significant blitz from Barr might have been a run blitz, though, as he tackled Jonathan Hilliman in the end zone for a safety when the Giants were backed up at the 1-yard line.
“Anthony did great,” said Everson Griffen, who recorded three pressures and a sack on the day himself. “He had a safety. He had an interception. He should’ve had half a sack with me. So he played well. He’s doing his job at a high level, and it’s good to see him. He’s a big body. He’s like an extra D-lineman coming off the edge running fast downhill.”
Both Vikings linebackers — not just Barr — were impactful in New York as Eric Kendricks logged another strong game. He and Barr graded out as the two highest-rated Vikings defensive players on Sunday, per Pro Football Focus. Kendricks attacked the A-gap several times throughout the game and showed great discipline on this third-down rush as Barr flew into the pocket on a stunt, flushing Jones out of the pocket where Kendricks closed quickly and nearly created an interception.
“Every week when we’re watching the tape, we try to figure out what approach we need to take,” Zimmer said when asked about the aggressive approach. “Each week is a different week. I guess we just try to figure out a way to stop the other team best we can.”
A notable contrast to the previous week’s loss was the amount of pressure Minnesota brought on first and second down. Nine of their 15 blitzes came on early downs with Jones going 3 for 8 with a sack on those plays.
“It’s all based on tendencies, what the other team does, and we felt like we had some tendencies there that we could try to attack,” said Zimmer. “That’s really what it was. Again, every week’s a different week.”
Here, the pressure on second and goal from the 20-yard line forced a near interception by Smith on Jones’ throwaway.
And Ifeadi Odenigbo recorded his first career sack on this second-down blitz as an inside rusher.
Of course, the Vikings brought pressure as usual on several third downs. Jones was impressively poised on third down, finishing 8 of 16 (50%). On the play below he stares into nine men in the box pre-snap before connecting with Shepard for a first down.
But Jones generally had a tougher time around the red zone. On consecutive plays below, the Vikings brought pressure with New York near the goal line and forced a hurried fade on 3rd and 2…
…and a sack on 4th and 2 as Kendricks flushed Jones right into the arms of Danielle Hunter.
The frequent pressure may not be as wise against an experienced quarterback like Carson Wentz this coming Sunday, but it further demonstrated this defense’s ability to make life miserable for rookie quarterbacks, at least.
“I think that we just worked well together as a group,” said Griffen. “Our coaches give us a great game plan to follow and it’s up to us to go out there and execute it and I think we did that. I think we take ownership in doing our job to a high level.”