Apparently Dom Capers is a genius. Turns out, if you blitz a rookie quarterback 75% of the time, your defense does well. Especially if you are up by 14 points after just a few minutes.
OK, bitterness aside, the Packers did have a pretty smart (even if it was obvious) gameplan: Pressure Christian Ponder and understand that the Vikings will not abandon the run. The Packers were run-blitzing throughout last Monday’s game and generally gave Peterson the ‘containment’ treatment. But Capers took it a step further: He sent Charles Woodson about 600 times. According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, the Packers brought an “extra” defender on 74.4% of Ponder’s dropbacks. A good way to fail against heavy blitzing is to leave guys unblocked, and the Vikings offense put on a clinic in that regard.
The following breakdown is completely unofficial: I went back and watched the first half and made notes for myself, but have no official NFL stats. Here’s what I saw regarding the Packers’ blitz:
The Vikings offense ran 34 plays in the first half (not including punts or field goal attempts); my goal was to look at how the Packers attacked us and how we reacted, so I’m including plays that came back due to penalties. Since the Packers are a 3-4 team, we know that outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Erik Walden are pass rushing/run blitzing as often as they are dropping back. On our 34 plays, Packers defenders other than Matthews/Walden blitzed on 20 plays. Woodson was the most frequent visitor the Vikings’ backfield, blitzing on nine plays. Desmond Bishop blitzed seven times and A.J. Hawk and safety Morgan Burnett each came five times. Remember, I’m only talking about the first half here.
The biggest problem the Vikings had was that these guys frequently were untouched/unblocked. Matthews was unblocked twice in the fist half and forced a fumble on one of those plays. On those 20 plays where the others blitzed, a defender was untouched/unblocked 7.5 times (the .5 is how I’m scoring Adrian Peterson’s horrible attempt at blocking Hawk in the second quarter—AP touched Hawk, but only barely impeded the linebacker’s route). Let’s go to the Gamebook.
1-10-MIN 20 (15:00) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 22 for 2 yards (M.Burnett; D.Bishop).
- Both Woodson and Matthews sell out, both are blocked.
2-8-MIN 22 (14:24) C.Ponder pass short right to P.Harvin pushed ob at MIN 28 for 6 yards (C.Peprah) [C.Woodson].
- Woodson comes directly through the middle of the Vikings line and is untouched.
3-2-MIN 28 (14:04) (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass incomplete short left to V.Shiancoe.
- Matthews and Hawk are the blitzers and Minnesota picks them up long enough for Ponder to set up and throw (where’s the pass interference!?).
1-10-MIN 20 (13:42) A.Peterson left tackle to MIN 21 for 1 yard (C.Matthews).
- Matthews and Woodson come on a run blitz and Peterson has no room.
2-9-MIN 21 (13:05) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 26 for 5 yards (A.Hawk; M.Burnett).
- Woodson and Burnett both come on a run blitz, but the Vikings open a small lane for Peterson, who pushes for a decent gain.
3-4-MIN 26 (12:27) C.Ponder pass short right to P.Harvin to MIN 34 for 8 yards (J.Bush, C.Peprah).
- Matthews blitzs from the right side and Toby Gerhart makes an excellent block.
1-10-MIN 34 (11:45) C.Ponder sacked at MIN 27 for -7 yards (C.Matthews). FUMBLES (C.Matthews) [C.Matthews], recovered by MIN-A.Peterson at MIN 25. A.Peterson to MIN 25 for no gain (A.Hawk).
- Good thing Peterson found the ball, because he completely whiffed on Matthews.
2-19-MIN 25 (11:03) A.Peterson left end pushed ob at MIN 28 for 3 yards (C.Woodson).
- Here’s a situation where the Vikings are utterly predictable: Capers plays it safe and the Packers string Peterson out.
3-16-MIN 28 (10:37) (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass short middle to P.Harvin to MIN 34 for 6 yards (C.Woodson) [D.Bishop].
- Hawk and Bishop bring big time pressure—Bishop is untouched.
1-10-MIN 20 (5:02) J.Webb left end to MIN 26 for 6 yards (R.Pickett).
- Matthews and Walden run blitz.
2-4-MIN 26 (4:27) C.Ponder pass incomplete to D.Aromashodu (M.Burnett).
- Matthews blitzes and Burnett comes untouched through the line to bat down Ponder’s pass.
3-4-MIN 26 (4:21) (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass deep middle to V.Shiancoe to GB 41 for 33 yards (C.Peprah)
- Matthews, Hawk, and Bishop all blitz, and the Vikings actually maintain enough of a pocket for Ponder to step into before he sends a lazer-beam at Shiancoe.
1-10-GB 41 (3:43) P.Harvin up the middle to GB 33 for 8 yards (D.Bishop).
- Matthews is blocked.
2-2-GB 33 (3:10) C.Ponder pass deep right to P.Harvin to GB 2 for 31 yards (T.Williams). PENALTY on MIN-P.Harvin, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at GB 33 – No Play.
- Matthews is blocked.
2-12-GB 43 (2:47) A.Peterson up the middle to GB 30 for 13 yards (A.Hawk; C.Peprah).
- Matthews is blocked again.
1-10-GB 30 (2:05) (Shotgun) A.Peterson up the middle to GB 29 for 1 yard (C.Wilson).
- Matthews and Burnett both come, and both are blocked.
2-9-GB 29 (1:31) C.Ponder pass incomplete short middle to A.Peterson (D.Bishop).
- Matthews is stymied once more.
3-9-GB 29(1:25) (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass short left intended for V.Shiancoe INTERCEPTED by C.Woodson at GB 23. C.Woodson to GB 23 for no gain (V.Shiancoe). Minnesota challenged the incomplete pass ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass incomplete short left to V.Shiancoe (C.Woodson).
- Matthews, Bishop, and Burnett are all blocked long enough for Ponder to get off a clean pass.
***END 1st QUARTER***
1-10-MIN 21 (11:59) C.Ponder pass short right to R.D’Imperio pushed ob at MIN 22 for 1 yard (C.Woodson).
- Bishop is unblocked, forcing a quick throw.
2-9-MIN 22 (11:20) C.Ponder pass short left to K.Rudolph to MIN 30 for 8 yards (M.Burnett). Timeout #1 by MIN at 10:34.
- Matthews, Bishop, and Walden are all accounted for.
3-1-MIN 30 (10:34) C.Ponder scrambles right end ran ob at MIN 43 for 13 yards (C.Matthews).
- Green Bay showed a rare four-man front, and they sent Hawk on a blitz. Peterson squares Hawk up, but then lets him go right by.
1-10-MIN 43 (9:55) A.Peterson left end to MIN 49 for 6 yards (E.Walden).
- Matthews and Walden run blitz.
2-4-MIN 4 (9:19) C.Ponder pass deep middle intended for D.Aromashodu INTERCEPTED by T.Williams [D.Bishop] at GB 2. T.Williams to GB 23 for 21 yards (J.Kleinsasser). flea-flicker.
- Walden run blitz, Ponder hit just after releasing the ball—he mostly stepped into the throw, but it looks like he was leaning away from the hit.
1-10-MIN 25 (6:53) A.Peterson right tackle to MIN 25 for no gain (C.Woodson).
- Matthews and Woodson are the blitzers, and #21 is untouched on his way to Peterson.
2-10-MIN 25 (6:17) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 34 for 9 yards (C.Wilson, M.Burnett).
- Matthews and Bishop are the blitzers.
3-1-MIN 34 (5:40) A.Peterson left end to MIN 40 for 6 yards (E.Walden; C.Woodson).
- Matthews run blitz.
1-10-MIN 40 (5:13) C.Ponder pass short left to M.Jenkins to GB 41 for 19 yards (D.Bishop).
- Matthews and Walden on a blitz, both picked up.
1-10-GB 41 (4:34) T.Gerhart left end to GB 37 for 4 yards (M.Burnett). PENALTY on MIN-P.Harvin, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at GB 41 – No Play.
- Woodson comes untouched on the backside, not a factor on this play.
1-20-MIN 49 (4:12) P.Harvin up the middle to MIN 48 for -1 yards (C.Wilson).
- Harvin fell down before he even took the handoff, so its hard to say what the Packers had planned for this play.
2-21-MIN 48 (3:39) C.Ponder pass incomplete short right to D.Aromashodu.
- Shocker on 2nd and very long: Bishop, Hawk, and Burnett all blitz—the Vikings get a body on each, but the pocket collapses quickly and the Packers sniff out the screen pass.
3-21-MIN 48 (3:34) (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass short right to P.Harvin to GB 40 for 12 yards (A.Hawk, M.Burnett).
- Matthews is joined by only two linemen on the pass rush but Ponder throws the ball right away.
1-10-MIN 33 (:44) (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass short middle to P.Harvin to MIN 42 for 9 yards (A.Hawk; C.Peprah). Timeout #2 by MIN at 00:37.
- Matthews and Woodson are picked up.
2-1-MIN 42 (:37) (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass incomplete short left to D.Aromashodu.
- Matthews and Woodson both come from the edge, and Loadholt correctly stays inside to block Matthews. Woodson is untouched but the ball is already out of Ponder’s hands.
3-1-MIN 42 (:33) (Shotgun) C.Ponder pass incomplete short left to P.Harvin.
- It’s Matthews and Woodson once again. Ponder throws the ball immediately, a little too high for Harvin.
There you have it. The “formula” to beat the Vikings is to blitz on every play and assume that the Vikings will be conservative on any second or third and long. I don’t think any defensive coordinator needs Dom Caper to remind him that this is what you should always do to a rookie quarterback who doesn’t have any real threat at wide receiver. Still, I believe these “formulas” the national media are so fond of should come with one disclaimer: It’s one thing to know how to beat a team, it’s another thing to execute the scheme on Sundays. Everybody has seen the Steelers, Ravens, and Jets beat New England with pressure and man-to-man coverage—but not every team has the talent on defense to actually make that scheme work against the Patriots (imagine the Vikings trying to cover Wes Welker, for example). This Vikings fan says bring the blitz! For one thing, Ponder needs the trial by fire. For another, not every team has Clay Matthews, and eventually Ponder and Peterson are going to burn aggressive defenses.