The Art of Stopping the Broken-Play Quarterback

Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson (USA TODAY Sports)

To describe the start of the Minnesota Vikings’ season as anything other than disappointing would be a gross understatement. After constantly shooting themselves in the foot, Minnesota was a play away from beating the Cincinnati Bengals. Then, in a better-played game, they a 37-yard field goal away from an upset win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Now the Vikings get to try and beat the Seattle Seahawks. More specifically, quarterback Russell Wilson, who has a career 7-0 record against Minnesota. At this point, it doesn’t appear that the football gods are willing to cease their never-ending maltreatment of Vikings fans who gift their souls to the Purple People Eaters every year.

That might be a bit dramatic, but 0-2 is not how the team wanted to start. At this point, it feels like their home opener against Seattle is a must-win. The big question for Minnesota heading into the week will be: How does the defense that has surrendered the fifth-highest passer rating in the league stop Wilson?

There’s no easy way to contain a dynamic quarterback like him, but the good news for the Vikings is they may be able to look back at how they fared against Kyler Murray for some clarity. It’s improbable to think you can completely stop someone like Murray or Wilson, but you can certainly game plan for it.

“When you play a quarterback like that, that runs around and makes some plays, sometimes it gets chaotic,” said Nick Vigil after the Cardinals game. “We had to do the best we could to keep him contained. But when you play a guy like that, you have to understand he’s going to get out of the pocket and make plays, so you just want to limit that.”

Containment is the key here. The Vikings’ success against Murray came when they set the edge and kept him in the pocket. A heavy dose of Danielle Hunter, who had three sacks a week ago, will be needed on Sunday.

A lot of the responsibility falls on the linebackers, who assume a bit of an adjusted role against Wilson-esque quarterbacks. Usually, Zimmer loves to dial up his signature A- and B-gap pressure from the linebackers, but that presents a lot more risk for someone who excels outside the pocket.

Instead, linebackers drop into coverage more often. As seen against Arizona, it can work well. Murray was forced into throwing multiple interceptions, one of which was caught by Vigil. But as much as you can game plan to keep someone like Murray or Wilson in the pocket, it’s naïve to think they won’t get out eventually.

“We knew that there was a possibility he was going to get out a few times. He’s just quick and fast and sees things,” said Zimmer at Monday’s press conference. While he only admitted to there being “some similarities in their scrambling,” it’s clear that he’s already drawn the connection between the two NFC West quarterbacks.

Minnesota needs to prepare for how they’ll respond when Wilson inevitably gets out of the pocket because it wasn’t pretty last week.

Blown coverage did the Vikings in on Sunday. Xavier Woods even said on Monday that Wilson excels “especially [on] deep passes down the field. I played him last year, and that’s where he hurt us last year.”

Figuring out how to stop the big play will be the most crucial thing for Minnesota to figure out this week. The Seahawks have two receivers who thrive on getting down the field, including Tyler Lockett, who has already racked up 278 yards and three touchdowns through two games.

The Vikings kept two safeties deep for much of last week, but it didn’t stop the broken play from happening. The eye test suggests that the secondary still has leaps and bounds to go in terms of cohesiveness because the talent is there. It’s about eliminating the miscommunications that have killed the unit through two games.

Facing off against someone like Wilson is never a fun prospect, and there’s a lot to think about when preparing for him. The saving grace for Minnesota is that they have the benefit of facing the closest thing to him in Murray the prior week and can look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It’s almost a perfect parallel for what the Vikings must do moving forward: learn and improve upon their mistakes. They have a playoff-caliber roster, but nothing matters if you can’t rack up some wins.

This is the week we’ll find out what this Vikings team is made of. Will they become stronger from last week’s performance, get back on the right track, or fall closer to playoff irrelevance? Only time will tell, and it starts with containing the broken-play quarterback.

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