EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have established themselves as one of the best defenses in football.
Pro Football Focus took an in-depth look at what Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is doing to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
The Vikings still have largely the same defensive personnel as last season — a unit constructed with a wildly different defensive strategy in mind — but Flores' creativity is taking center stage.
PFF noted Minnesota leading the league in blitz rate by being the only team to send extra rushers more than 50 percent of the time, as well as ranking second in terms of the frequency of only rushing three or fewer players.
It's not so much the consistent aggression that causes problems for opposing offenses, but the extreme variance of Minnesota's pass rush.
When the Vikings blitz, they tend to overload. The Vikings actually rank dead last in the NFL in the percentage of blitzes that feature five rushers — i.e., sending just one extra rusher — but they lead the league in the percentage of their blitzes that feature six rushers and have the second-highest percentage of seven or more rushers.
PFF highlighted the Vikings deployment of three safeties (Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum and Harrison Smith) in a nickel grouping that is different than other teams that tend to utilize three cornerbacks and two safeties.
Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum and Harrison Smith have each played 791 snaps or more this season, whereas the team's third cornerback has only 338. Each of those safeties is capable of lining up anywhere they need them to — deep off the line, in the box or covering the slot — and will move both snap to snap and within the play as the coverage rotates.
Opposing quarterbacks are forced to read a constantly shifting picture with unusual personnel that aren't in fixed positions and trying to determine how that defense will react to the play they called in the huddle.
Much of current offensive success is predicated on understanding how defensive rules within coverages will react to specific plays and targeting the weak points. Teams can't figure out what the rules are for this Vikings defense because the picture changes too quickly.
The article also mentions the major contributions of linebackers Ivan Pace, Jr., Jordan Hicks and Danielle Hunter.
Pro Bowl push for Metellus
Pro Bowl voting remains ongoing, and the following Vikings are in the top 10 at their respective positions:
Garrett Bradbury – 9th overall (5th in NFC)
C.J. Ham – 7th overall (4th in NFC)
Camryn Bynum – 8th overall (4th in NFC)
Andrew DePaola – 2nd overall (2nd in NFC)
Danielle Hunter – 4th overall (2nd in NFC)
Josh Metellus – 4th overall (2nd in NFC)
Harrison Smith – 9th overall (4th in NFC)
T.J. Hockenson – 3rd overall (2nd in NFC)
Sports Illustrated's Will Ragatz made the case for Metellus, whose versatility would lead some to consider him as a positionless player when it comes to casting a ballot.
No player better epitomizes the Vikings defensive brilliance this season under Brian Flores than Josh Metellus. He's their Swiss Army Knife, their ultimate chess piece, their "Mr. Everything." And he deserves serious consideration for a Pro Bowl spot.
Some of [the positions listed by Sunday's FOX broadcast] are maybe stretching it a little bit — PFF lists Metellus as having one snap at DE and one snap at DT all year — but you get the point. On any given play, he could be just about anywhere. Among his 791 defensive snaps through 13 games, 300 have come in the slot, 284 have come in the box, 150 have come at outside linebacker, and there are snaps at outside corner and free safety mixed in there, too.
Ragatz noted Metellus' rise from being a sixth-round pick who started on special teams to becoming a captain of the group and every down player "is an impressive story on its own."
Considering how well he's playing this season and how critical his versatility is to the Vikings top-five defense, Metellus deserves legitimate buzz to be one of the six NFC safeties selected to this year's Pro Bowl.