From 0 to 99: the Vikings’ Pass Rush Needs to Elevate

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Apart from Danielle Hunter — #99 — the Vikings’ pass rush didn’t do enough against Tampa Bay. Of course, not having Marcus Davenport — #0 — certainly didn’t help, but the point remains.

The secondary actually held up reasonably well against the talented twosome leading the Buccaneers’ aerial attack. Chris Godwin finished his day with 5 receptions for 51 scoreless yards whereas Mike Evans put together 6 receptions for 66 yards and a TD. Going into the game, basically any Vikings fan (and coach, for that matter) would have gladly accepted these outcomes.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield (not pictured) as Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) defends during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Part of the issue, though, is that Minnesota only got a single sack onto the stat sheet. Hunter was up to his usual antics, overwhelming the offensive tackle on his way to a 1st quarter sack on a 3rd & 6. After losing 4 yards, the Bucs wisely decided to settle for a field goal.

Unfortunately, Hunter didn’t pick up any more throughout the rest of the game and his teammates didn’t offer the help he needed.

Philadelphia Awaits: The Vikings’ Pass Rush Needs to Elevate

According to PFF, the Vikings have the worst edge rusher from Week 1 (a small sample size, to be sure).

Patrick Jones is coming in at an uninspiring 28.8 in their scoring system (with 100 being the highest). Others — Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, Benton Whitley — performed better, but the broader point remains: the entire pass-rushing crew in Minnesota should make it their personal mission to have a dominant effort tonight.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Commanders
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) and Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) celebrate after a sack against the Washington Commanders during the third quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Slowing down Jalen Hurts is no small feat; doing so without a collectively dominant defensive front is nearly impossible. Yes, the Vikings’ defensive line and edge rushers need to get the best of Philadelphia’s offensive line, especially in critical moments of the game.

Last week, Jalen Hurts went 22/33 for 170 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs. On the ground, Hurts could only scamper for 37 yards on 9 attempts. Forcing the QB into replicating that set of stats will give Minnesota a fighting chance. And, for whatever it’s worth, defensive coordinator Brian Flores is coming out of the Patriots system, so maybe he’ll have some similar magic as Bill Belichick for tonight’s game.

NFL: NFC Championship-San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles
Jan 29, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) throws a pass under pressure from San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) during the first quarter in the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In Week 1, Hurts had some of the most time to throw. Now, that’s likely due to his ability to extend plays with his legs, at least in part. While Cousins averaged 2.79 seconds to throw the football, Hurts was up at 3.26 seconds (behind only Patrick Mahomes at 3.28 and Zach Wilson at 3.29).

When we assess a stat like time to throw, there are a couple things to keep in mind. At times, having more time is a good thing since it speaks to an o-line’s strength as well as a QB’s mobility. However, there could also be instances when the QB is being indecisive, holding onto the football unnecessarily long instead of getting rid of it before the pass rush can get home.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum (98) and defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (90) celebrates a sack of Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, the hope is that Flores’ defense will be playing fast and clean football tonight. Some sticky coverage on A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith will hopefully prompt Hurts to hold onto the football for a touch longer, giving the pass rushers a bit more time to impact the QB.

Meanwhile, the team is likely to keep leaning on the blitz. As Kevin Seifert pointed out, Minnesota led the NFL in Week 1 since there was an extra rusher 47.2% of the time. Someone as gifted as Hurts will prompt Flores to think long and hard about being overly aggressive, and yet there’s also plenty of danger in being overly passive with a QB capable of beating a defense on the ground and in the air. So, a tricky balance for the DC.

Of note, Jordan Hicks blitzed 7 times in Week 1 after only getting sent 17 times in 2022 (fulfilling the prophecy), Harrison Smith blitzed 6 times after only getting sent 9 times in 2022, and Josh Metellus more than tripled his pair of blitzes in 2022 by being sent 7 times.

Davenport has apparently been “walking with a noticeable limp,” so there should be some concern about whether he’ll play. In all likelihood, Kevin O’Connell will opt to rest the FA acquisition since the team will then have a mini bye prior to the Week 3 contest with Justin Herbert and the Chargers. If that occurs, then the onus shifts onto Wonnum, Jones, and Hunter (which is to say nothing of the voluminous blitzing and blitzers).

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CDT.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Next Gen Stats helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.