It’s been kind of a tough season so far for Jared Allen. After four games, the allegedly fearsome pass rusher has only one sack to his name – a fact that has not been lost on Viking fandom, which has been mercilessly ripping him. Amid the hammering, fans have offered up some pretty interesting theories about why Jared’s production has fallen so dramatically. The big one seems to be that getting married in the off-season has somehow sapped his manly energy. When Jared cut his mullet for his wife, this explanation goes, he symbolically chopped off his own – well, you know – and now he’s just not the same deranged quarterback-eating wild man he was before. The possibility has also been raised that, like a female tennis player distracted from her game by modeling, Jared has simply taken on too many outside media-related projects, and lost his football focus. I would tend to discount this though – sure, Jared is on Jim Rome‘s TV show more than Jim Rome, and also has a regular radio show on KFAN, and a hunting show, and a cookbook on the market, but even with all these extra responsibilities, he still has plenty of time to practice and work out.
I don’t know if Jared has heard any of these theories, or is aware of how much criticism he is receiving from the fanbase. I do know that his defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has heard all of it and is more-than-willing to leap to Jared’s defense. According to Frazier, Jared’s lack of dominance can be chalked up to the way teams have been game-planning against him. Furthermore, says Frazier, these over-adjustments to deal with Jared have opened things up for other guys on the defense, and are the primary reason why, after four games, the Vikings are ranked among the best pass defenses in the league.
“He’s playing well,” Frazier insisted when asked about Allen. “What’s happening with Jared is he’s still getting a lot of situations where there are backs chipping or tight ends to his side. What it does is it helps other guys, it helps our pass defense. Our pass defense has really improved, primarily because of the types of blocks that we’re getting from offenses right now.”
Defensive rankings are, as we know, determined by yardage. After 4 games, the Vikings have surrendered an average of 185 yards-per-contest, good enough to rank them 6th. Last year, by comparison, the Vikes were ranked in the middle of the pack, giving up 218 yards-per-game. Of course stats only tell part of the story – you have to look at who the actual opponents have been to get a true sense of what these rankings mean. In week 1 the Vikings played the Saints, normally an offensive juggernaut but not so much in that game or for most of the rest of this season frankly. Week 2 they played the Dolphins – again, not exactly the Greatest Show on Turf (or any other surface). Week 3 it was the Lions, a team that has put up some big passing stats at times this year, but is still far from consistent. And in Week 5 of course they played the Jets, not a high-flying pass offense under the best of circumstances, even less so when their receivers can’t hold onto the ball as was the case Monday night.
Overall, it seems to me that passing stats don’t paint a very accurate picture of where the Vikings are defensively. They have gotten lucky by facing teams that were not at the top of their offensive game at the time, and outside of Drew Brees, have yet to face a really top-notch quarterback. No disrespect to Leslie Frazier, but Chad Henne, Shaun Hill and Mark Sanchez don’t scare anyone. Also, I’m not certain I entirely buy the idea that teams are really loading up to stop Jared. It seems to me – and this is without really breaking down the tape, I confess – that Jared is getting one-on-one blocked a whole heck of a lot, and is simply having his speed used against him by well-coached offensive linemen. The plan is simple for the left tackle: You know Jared’s going to try to speed rush you, so you just ride him, letting his own momentum carry both of you away from the quarterback who is inevitably stepping up in the pocket or being rolled to the right. Jared usually eventually gets away from the tackle, but by now he’s been carried so far from the QB, it’s too late. Despite this, Jared is still able to sometimes be disruptive, but no one would argue that he’s been a major factor in any of the Vikings’ four games.
If anything, the Vikings have played decent pass defense in spite of Jared, not because of him or anything teams are doing to account for him. They’ve been able to get it done so far this year because Leslie Frazier is a fantastic in-game adjuster, because other linemen like Kevin Williams and Ray Edwards have stepped up to make big plays at key times, and because the linebackers and defensive backs continue to be excellent in limiting YAC. And, like I said before, it’s helped that they have not yet played a really great pass offense. This weekend against Dallas, they will play a team that is capable of putting on a great offensive show, but is not always able to protect their quarterback, and is also prone to dumb mistakes. Last season in the playoffs, the Vikings – and particularly Ray Edwards – chewed up the Dallas offensive line on the way to a 34-3 win. If the Cowboys’ line plays like that again this year, Jared Allen may very well break out of his slump. And if he doesn’t do it this weekend, he might do it next week against the Packers, who surrendered 7.5 of his 14.5 sacks in 2009. The point here is, great sack men tend to get them in bunches, and that has certainly been the case with Jared. In a couple of weeks, if he is sitting on 7 or 8, eveyone will get off his back. Until then, the bashing and the crazy theorizing will continue.