Vikings pass rush conundrum
The 2019 season saw the Vikings post their second highest pressure total in the last two decades, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Since the end of the season, the Vikings have lost players responsible for one hundred and twenty two pressures, and twenty sacks due to free agency, and cuts. Among them Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly, and Everson Griffen who terminated the last year of his contract. That’s over thirty-five percent of their pass rush production gone in just one off-season.
Half of the Vikings 2020 schedule will feature eight offensive lines that landed within the top fifteen in PFF pass blocking grades, including five in the top ten. Their schedule also includes eight QB’s in the top fifteen in PFF passing grade (min. 300 dropbacks), including the top three. It goes without saying Minnesota’s pass rush cannot afford the regression that they seemed to be heading towards.
Michael Pierce was added to the roster after the departure of Linval Joseph. He provides an instant upgrade in run defense, but he only had sixteen pressures on three hundred and eight pass rushing snaps. Combine that with Shemar Stephens six pressures on three hundred fifty pass rushing snaps, and you have one of the worst pass rushing interiors in the NFL. Their twenty-two combined pressures in 2019 would be ranked fortieth in the NFL among individual interior pass rushers.
How do the Vikings stop their tumble towards mediocrity? Signing back Everson Griffen would be a sure fire way to maintain productivity. He recorded eleven sacks last season and over sixty-five pressures, while playing less than a thousand snaps. He would likely take even less snaps to make room for Odenigbo, but that would play to the Vikings plans to keep a healthy four to five man rotation. The Second option is to find a way to generate an interior pass rush. In the wild card round vs the Saints Mike Zimmer moved Griffen and Hunter inside, allowing Odenigbo to rush on the outside creating a force the Saints couldn’t handle. Option two is to cut Shemar Stephen and let the battle of the three tech position rage on in training camp. As stated earlier, Shemar isn’t even a decent pass rusher and never has been, and the Vikings cannot lack the productivity at that spot with such a young secondary behind it. It is time
for one of the younger guys to step up and start. Armon Watts would look to be the favorite after increasing his playing time as last season wore on. James Lynch, Hercules Mata’afa, and others will also join the battle for the position. The Vikings do have a few wild cards for training camp, rookies DJ wonnum, Kenny Willekes, and veteran Eddie yarbrough. Minnesota will be looking for at least two more edge rushers to contribute consistently, so there will be plenty of opportunities to earn playing time.
The Vikings have depended on their pass rush for the last couple seasons, and now it may not be as reliable. How they decide to keep it relevant will play a very large part in dictating how the 2020 season will go.