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Vikings Defense Has Wrinkle for Nickel Scheme

In today's pass happy NFL, teams have to come up with a variety of strategies to combat an opponent's aerial attack.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer recently talked about the importance of having both defenders who can rush quarterbacks and those who can cover receivers.

Asked about the increased use of nickel defenses last week at the Annual League Meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, to counter the prevalent passing, the third-year head coach talked about the importance of players in specialty roles.

"The inside nickel rusher becomes a really important position, at least for us, as much as the nickel back," Zimmer said. 

In Minnesota's base 4-3 defense (usually used against teams with less than three receivers on the field), the Vikings usually put two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, three linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties on the field.

But when teams employ a third wide receiver, it could present a mismatch against a linebacker.

Zimmer's defense usually counters by taking out a linebacker and adding in another cornerback in the slot, which is usually Captain Munnerlyn.

View some of the best images of the defensive backs from 2015.

Minnesota added wrinkles to the mix last year, often bringing in rookie Danielle Hunter in at defensive end and sliding Brian Robison to one of the defensive tackle spots to get more pass rushers on the field.

They often would be joined by defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who has turned in his best two seasons in the NFL since joining the Vikings in 2014.  Griffen has led the Vikings the past two seasons with 12 and 10.5 sacks.

"We've started going with the nickel rusher quite a bit as well," Zimmer said. "Really, an inside rusher is what we always look for."

Zimmer estimated that teams play in the nickel around 60 or 70 percent of the time, although the Vikings don't use the scheme as often as others teams.

But with the Vikings moving indoors to U.S. Bank Stadium, Zimmer admitted that the ideal playing conditions could mean an increase in an opponent's passing attempts and the Vikings use of the nickel or other sub packages.

Because of the various threats posed by NFL offenses, Zimmer said a big key to success is having plenty of depth and versatility.

"It's almost like you're looking for 12, 13 guys rather than 11-on-11," Zimmer said.

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