Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is entering just his third season at the helm for Minnesota, but his reputation as a defensive guru was established long before, during 14 seasons in the league as a defensive coordinator.
ESPN's Matt Bowen posted Monday his take on the NFL's five most creative play callers on defense. Zimmer – in tandem with Defensive Coordinator George Edwards – were included in Bowen's unranked list. He wrote:
Disguise, pre-snap movement and double A-gap pressure – that's what you get from [Defensive Coordinator George] Edwards and the Minnesota Vikings in Zimmer's scheme. […] On defense, the Vikings use camouflage as well as anyone in the league to take away throwing lanes and bring an avalanche of pressure on the quarterback.
Bowen delved into the Vikings definition of "double A-gap pressure." In their 4-3 defense, the Vikings sometimes post two linebackers over the center, which can create a level of confusion for the offensive linemen.
Are these dudes blitzing? Are they dropping in coverage? Do we need to slide the protection? And where the heck is safety Harrison Smith?
By moving the linebackers up near the line of scrimmage, Zimmer and Edwards open up a slew of possibilities for the Vikings defense. Meanwhile, their opponents are forced to anticipate and adjust in a matter of just a few a seconds.
You can drop to 3-deep/3-under (a standard zone-blitz shell). You can drop to a quarters-match scheme. You can take away the open (weak) side hot read. You can roll the safeties
Bowen used game film screen shots and broke down an example of the Vikings defense against the Lions in 2015. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks move up to the line of scrimmage at the snap, causing Matt Stafford and the Lions offense to overcorrect and slide protection to the right. The movement in the middle resulted in what Bowen called a two-on-one situation in Minnesota's favor, with Barr and Captain Munnerlyn blitzing and only running back Theo Riddick left to handle both defenders. Everson Griffen also beat an attempted block by tight end Eric Ebron on the play with an inside move and made first contact with Stafford. Barr finished off the sack.
Edwards and Zimmer obviously have a much deeper playbook than just the double A-gap looks, but it's the Vikings' ability to disguise and move off this alignment that really creates issues for opposing offenses. And they have the speed/athleticism on defense to dial this up to get results.
Bowen's list of creative play callers opened with Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, whose defense shut down the Panthers in February to win Super Bowl 50.
Joining Zimmer and Phillips on the lineup were Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick/Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia, Rams Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams and Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll/Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard.