Sacks could be at a premium for defensive ends in new Vikings scheme
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Jared Allen made his money lining up as wide as defensive ends in the NFL can, called the nine technique, as he geared up to attack the quarterback.
In the Minnesota Vikings' new defensive scheme under Mike Zimmer, defensive ends won't play as wide to get a better angle on the quarterback as they did before; stopping the run has become the top priority for the defensive line.
"In our system, we want our ends and defensive linemen to be complete players," Defensive line coach Andre Patterson said. "It's more about affecting the quarterback, obviously we want them to sack him. But, we want to affect him and get him off his launch point."
Allen racked up 85.5 sacks in six seasons with the Vikings, but the defensive line has undergone a philosophical change in how they rush the quarterback. Both Allen (-4.6) and defensive end Brian Robison (-8.1) ranked near the bottom of the NFL for 4-3 defensive ends stopping the run last season, per ProFootballFocus.com.
A pair of Cincinnati Bengals defensive ends ranked in the top four for run defense of 4-3 ends under Zimmer in 2013: Michael Johnson (+16.3) and Carlos Dunlap (+11.8).
Johnson was also the only defensive end to accumulate more than 10 sacks in a single season during Zimmer's six-year tenure when he finished 2012 with 11.5.
That doesn't mean Zimmer defenses don't get sacks; the Bengals have ranked in the top 10 in quarterback takedowns for three straight seasons since 2011 -- it's a matter of dispersing those numbers across positions instead of pegging one spot, such as defensive end, to do it all.
"Patterson wants us to play to what our advantages are," Robison said. "He also wants us to do things, not necessarily different than what we had before, but there's things we can be better than in years past. Whether that's adding power or finesse to our game. He wants to make sure we have all the tools we need to be successful."
Sacks are a fickle stat in the NFL. Sometimes the most capable players don't rack up the numbers because of their responsibilities in any given scheme. Many will be looking for defensive end Everson Griffen to live up to his five-year, $42.5 million extension with a big sack total this season.
However, Patterson introduced himself to the defensive line group by preaching how difficult sacks are to come by, especially if you're asked to defend the run first.
"My first day with the defensive line, I told them: 'I'm going to tell you something that you're going to think is crazy, but when you listen to me it's going to make sense: Getting a sack in the NFL is the hardest thing to do in professional sports,'" Patterson said. "A guy gets 750 rushing attempts through the course of a season, he gets 12 sacks. He's a six-million dollar player. Where can you be 12-of-750 in any sport and you're on the team. No other sport would you even make the team if you were 12-for-750.
"You have to gain an appreciation for how hard it is to get back there."
That hasn't stopped Robison, who started on the opposite end of Jared Allen since 2011, from setting Allen-like goals.
"I want to hit that double-digit sack mark," Robison said.