EAGAN, Minn. — Kansas City turned up the heat, bringing blitz after blitz against Green Bay on Sunday night.
The Chiefs were without Frank Clark (38 career sacks; 3.0 in seven games with Kansas City) and 2016 second-round pick Chris Jones (26 career sacks; 15.5 last season). They sent an extra rusher much more frequently than they had prior to the kickoff in Kansas City.
Early in the third quarter, NBC's Sunday Night Football broadcast announced a blitz rate of 44 percent by the Chiefs on the Packers pass plays. That rate was 17 percent higher than Kansas City's average in its first seven games of 2017.
Make sure to check out the "Film Room" breakdown video by Paul Allen and Pete Bercich of last week's game in which Kansas City totaled five sacks of Aaron Rodgers, bringing its season total to 25.
Was the higher blitz rate a game-plan driven exception, designed to best keep Rodgers from extending plays?
Is it a temporary fix while the defense is without Clark and/or Jones?
Or could it be an emerging identity under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo?
We asked Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer if the frequent blitzing was a new identity taking shape, and he said, "It may be," but didn't rule out other possibilities.
"It might have been the team they're playing, it might have been that they've had a couple guys out that I think will be back this week," Zimmer said. "Every week is a new week, but when you start getting 16, 17, 18 blitzes in a row, it could be their identity now."
Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who often this season has noted different games have involved different plans, said it could be "week-to-week."
"I think it depends on what's called for in that game," Stefanski said. "Certainly, when you turn on the tape, it gets your attention and you have to be ready for it and prepared for it. I think it's an impressive scheme. I have a ton of respect for their coaches, and I think they have really good players."
Kirk Cousins said teams will do what they need within the game, even it requires a departure from a core identity.
"I think it's a credit to Coach Spagnuolo that he's not going to be too set in his ways, that he'll do whatever he thinks is the best plan," Cousins said. "But certainly, he's been known to be very multiple in the past, and you could see a lot of exotic looks from him. They have the players to do that. They have players who can blitz and cover and be very versatile.
"We certainly have to be ready for whatever they're going to throw at us," Cousins continued. "We say this a lot, but we have to be ready for the reaction during the game. I think every defense and every offense has a plan, and as the first quarter winds down, as halftime shows up, you make adjustments, and you never know what a team might throw at you in the second half that you didn't see in the first half and certainly didn't see all season long prior to that."
Cousins' time as the starting QB in Washington overlapped with three seasons in which Spagnuolo was defensive coordinator for the New York Giants (2015-17) and interim head coach (2017). The Redskins and Giants split six contests in that time.
Cousins was a combined 132-of-216 passing for 1,601 yards with seven touchdowns, eight interceptions and took 16 sacks. Given the fact that the QB and coach are on new teams and with completely different surrounding casts, prior numbers could have very little, if anything, to do with Sunday's outcome.
Clark (neck) did not participate for a second straight day on Thursday, just like fellow defensive end Alex Okafor (ankle). Jones (groin), a defensive tackle, fully practiced Thursday after being limited on Wednesday.
Will a potentially short-handed Kansas City defense implement blitzes as frequently this week against Cousins?
The Chiefs might have a reason to think twice about doing so.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cousins has the best passer rating in the NFL against the blitz this season:
The quarterback, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October for his torrid clip in four Vikings victories, explained how a quarterback can excel against a blitz.
"I think pressure obviously voids zones, so if [a defense is] in a three-deep, four-under coverage and not pressuring, then [it is] only bringing four," Cousins said. "[If defenses] bring a fifth, now [they're] three-deep, three-under. You bring two, now you're three-deep, two under. I think voided zones open up throwing lanes.
"The key is you've got to be able to pick up those pressures and give yourself the ability to get the ball out of your hand," he continued. "I think it's a great testament to protection, to the o-line, our scheme, the plans, so that when they do pressure, it can be picked up. If they're bringing more than we can block, or if they're overloaded to a side, then I've got to get rid of the football, so it's being aware of those moments."
Cousins recalled a former coach of his, now 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, explaining his time as an assistant on a Houston Texans squad that was led by Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Senior Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak. Shanahan and quarterback Matt Schaub prayed for people to pressure because of the voided zones it created.
Stefanski noted the risk-reward equation that accompanies blitzing.
"We as coaches and players have to understand that there are big plays to be had when a team blitzes," Stefanski said. "The ball sometimes has to come out because you're not picked up or you are picked up and they're getting great pressure. He understands that, and I think he's done a nice job of, when the opportunities present themselves to get the ball out of his hand, putting it in the hand of a ball carrier that can go do something with it."