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Vikings D aims to keep it clean while dirtying QB uniforms

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — There's a right way and a wrong way to hit a quarterback.

The Vikings aren't tired of doing the former.

In the past two weeks, they've been credited by the press box with eight quarterback hurries of Matthew Stafford and 12 in ransacking Philip Rivers.

The Vikings made it clear after Sunday's 31-14 win over the Chargers and Monday they want to keep pressuring the quarterback when they face Peyton Manning in Denver Sunday, but keep it clean while trying to dirty the uniform of the five-time NFL MVP.

"We want to hit the quarterback as many times as we can, that's for sure," Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "We want to do it legally; we want to do it in the right target area. I think we got one (penalty on a late hit against Rivers), but the last two weeks we've hit these guys a few times, but we've hit them clean."

The target area refers to a designated location that defenders are allowed to strike quarterbacks, preventing them from going too high or too low.

Everson Griffen, who led the effort on the stat sheet with 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries, cited "no intimidation; just our physicality" as the reason for the pressure.

"We go out there and hit and play the game of football like it's supposed to be played: hard hits, legal hits," Griffen said. "We don't take cheap shots. We just want to play football the hard, physical way."

The best part about it, Griffen said, is the way the defensive line is functioning as a team.

"We've got great guys in our group that are doing great things right now. Linval Joseph, (Brian Robison), Sharrif Floyd, up and down the board," Griffen said. "You can't run (Joseph's) way. You can't do nothing. He's stopping the run at every angle.

"Tom, he's coming in and being that pass rush guy like we need on third downs," Griffen said. "He's coming in and doing critical stuff for us, making big plays, getting sacks and just causing havoc."

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said it's clear that the defensive linemen "feed off each other."

"They love hitting the quarterback," Munnerlyn said. "They love to see a quarterback get up and shake his head. I saw a couple of plays where Philip Rivers was getting after his offensive line like, 'Man, don't let me get hit like this again.' Those guys up front did a tremendous job."

During Griffen's session with media Monday, Munnerlyn shouted out, "Get there, please," in reference to pressuring Manning and helping the Vikings secondary.

While sacks are a readily tangible statistic, quarterbacks sometimes adjust to get the ball out quicker than they'd like. Pressure can lead to an errant throw, like the one that Chad Greenway snagged off a deflection and returned 91 yards for a touchdown.

"The guys up front, even if they didn't get a sack, they were putting a lot of pressure back there, which makes it a lot easier for us," safety Harrison Smith said. "If you don't get pressure on the quarterback when he's passing, eventually someone is going to be open. It always helps to have that."

The Vikings wouldn't be surprised to see Manning, nicknamed "The Sheriff," be quick on the draw with throwing the football.

View exclusive images shot by the team photographer from the Sept. 27 game against San Diego.

Rhodes update, review of Waynes

Zimmer said Xavier Rhodes, who was knocked out of the game because of a concussion late in the first half, was feeling better Monday and is following the NFL's concussion protocol.

"He's already passed one test," Zimmer said. "I think we should be good to go."

Rhodes was replaced in the second half by rookie Trae Waynes, who did well in his first regular season game with substantial action on defense.

"I thought he did well. I've been saying all along that he continues to get better every week," Zimmer said. "I felt like there was going to be an opportunity in the game this week, that he may end up playing some anyway. I didn't expect it under those circumstances, but he did good for his first real test under fire, I thought he did well."

Optimistic about Charles Johnson?

In addition to Rhodes, Charles Johnson also suffered an injury in the first half when he hurt his ribs. Zimmer was asked about the possibility of Johnson returning to the lineup and said, "I'm assuming so, but I don't know. We'll see where it goes during the week."

O-line "getting better"

Minnesota's offensive line helped the Vikings rush 31 times for 163 yards and didn't allow a sack of Teddy Bridgewater.

"I think they're getting better every week," Zimmer said. "There was some plays that we could have done a lot better at, I thought, in the first half than what we did, but I think them continually working as a group, I think T.J. [Clemmings] is getting better every week, Mike [Harris] is getting better, he's a battler, he's a fighter and [Matt] Kalil has had a very good season thus far. I like their mentality and where they're going and how they're kind of maybe leading this team with the mindset that we're trying to have and I think Adrian [Peterson] helps that as well."

Up the ladder

Peterson's 126 yards on 20 carries moved him to 10,481 career rushing yards. He moved past Eddie George (10,441) and Tiki Barber (10,449) for 25th-most in NFL history. Peterson's two rushing touchdowns on Sunday moved him to 13th all-time with 88.

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