It’s not a stretch to say that this new front office group has breathed some much-needed fresh air into a franchise entering football coaching’s equivalent of rigor mortis. The new plays are exciting, they utilize the players, a better fit overall. For the offense. The defense? Well, not exactly as revitalized as the other side of the ball. Is it a new scheme? Sure, but how well does it work? And, I apologize for even attempting to make this point, is it more effective than Mike Zimmer’s previous schemes? I’ll try to stack these two defensive ideas against each other, point out the pros and cons, and weigh in on which is superior.
For the majority of his time with the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Zimmer used a 4-3 defense (four linemen, three linebackers) that relied heavily on the defensive line. Blitzes came early and often, with Zimmer sprinkling in disguised coverages to try and mix up opposing teams’ passing games. The benefits of this setup is that the near-constant blitzes provided strong run defense, and had the potential to force the quarterback out of the pocket and possibly make mistakes. The biggest glaring downside (especially if it was used for today’s team) is that it puts heavy stress on the secondary. Zimmer had access to prime Xavier Rhodes and prime Harrison Smith, so that wasn’t much of an issue in the best years of this era. If, however, the secondary goofed on a read or got blown past by a speedy receiver, it was highly likely that play would be a long one. Zimmer, in the simplest terms, ran a very aggressive defense that was for sure a product of its time. Regardless of how new-age (or the lack thereof) Zimmer’s defense looked, it didn’t stop the unit from being a force for a number of years.
Short Routes = DonaHell
I know, it’s not really fair to compare a battle-tested philosophy to one that’s seen a grand total of five games of action. I’ll still try to be as neutral as possible when describing Ed Donatell’s scheme. This new Minnesota defense is a 3-4 (three linemen, four linebackers) formation that often forms a sort of shell to cover the deeper parts and sidelines of the field. The biggest benefit of this scheme is that it takes pressure off of the secondary and straps it onto the linebackers, who have to cover much more field than they would in Zimmer’s plans. The issue with this scheme, mainly, is that the defense can get absolutely picked apart by short and middle-length routes. Linebackers aren’t really meant to consistently cover receivers, especially if the receiver is exceptionally fast. This allows the opposing team to slowly and agonizingly burn time until they most likely drop one in for six points. They’re able to do this also because three defensive linemen will unsurprisingly have a tough time beating five offensive linemen to the quarterback. Overall, Donatell’s defense is a really conservative, low risk defense that can also lack the gusto needed to come up with stops consistently.
Thoughts and Opinions
I’m gonna clear this out immediately. Our defense is bad. Whichever way you slice it, whatever scheme you play, we are not a defensively strong team. With that being said, we have a certain part of this team much stronger than the rest of the defense. We have undoubtedly a top 10 pass rushing duo in the NFL. So, why would we have only three linemen rushing on most plays? It seems a little counterintuitive to not utilize Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith the best you can. That would mean adding more players on the line to hopefully create optimal matchups for the powerful duo. See where I’m kind of going with this? Donatell’s defense doesn’t mesh with this team well, and here’s why: even when we put less pressure on the defensive backs, they’re still so bad they usually blow the coverage anyways. I’ve watched/heard every minute in every game so far except for one, and that’s what I’m pulling from this side of the ball. So why not try to create some chaos in the backfield? Am I saying to go full Zimmer? NO. But I do think that this team could benefit greatly from adding some more blitz packages and actually trying to pressure the quarterback. Maybe, to get all we want out of this team, we need to reach into a past most fans and players wish to forget.