Exploring The Vikings’ Top Foursome for the Pass Rush

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

There’s 1:31 left in the 4th quarter and Detroit is trailing by a touchdown. Jared Goff is working without any timeouts left, so there’s understandable urgency to move the ball through the air with efficiency. How does Minnesota counter?

The Vikings’ top foursome in the pass rush will almost certainly involve seeing Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Dallas Turner tossed into the mix. Using those three at once is a potentially terrifying possibility for the opposition, but is there a fourth pass rusher who could make things even spicier for Brian Flores’ defense?

The Vikings’ Top Pass-Rushing Foursome

As of right now, Jerry Tillery may be the frontrunner.

The overlooked defensive tackle hasn’t had a perfect start to his NFL career, so it’s easy to forget that he entered the NFL with lots of optimism. After all, he got snagged at the end of the 1st in 2019, 28th overall. He stands at 6’6″ and weighs 295 pounds. He only had a pair of sacks last season, but does he get the chance to pickup one-on-one looks with consistency since all of the other pass rushers are getting so much attention?

NFL: New York Jets at Las Vegas Raiders
Nov 12, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws under pressure from Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (90) during the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One also thinks of Jihad Ward, someone who could kick inside to 3T on passing downs. The veteran has good size at 6’5″, 285 and has a history of lining up along the inside. He, too, could be part of a pass-rushing foursome as someone who is coming off a season with 5 sacks.

Defensive linemen like Jonathan Bullard, Harrison Phillips, and Jonah Williams have a shot to get some of that work, but none are known as being elite in this area.

The possibility exists that James Lynch shines while working with Flores, living up to some of his college production. Lynch missed all of last season due to injury and had gotten off to a modest start to his career since being scooped up in the 4th in the 2020 NFL Draft. His final season at Baylor, though, involved picking up 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss, some eye-popping numbers that haven’t yet translated to the NFL. Any chance Flores gets some of that out of Lynch?

Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle James Lynch (92) and cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) tackle San Francisco 49ers running back Tyrion Davis-Price (32) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, Flores rarely feels constrained to what’s most common. Putting an upside 3T onto the field makes a lot of sense, but maybe the defensive coordinator prefers to put four edge rushers into the mix at the same time.

Patrick Jones II could get the call or maybe someone like Andre Carter II. One of the UDFA adds — Gabriel Murphy or Bo Richter — could also get onto the field in this kind of scenario if they impress early.

Or maybe there’s something even more creative.

Greenard, Van Ginkel, Turner, and then some mix of blitzing options among the linebackers and safeties? Anyone of Ivan Pace, Blake Cashman, Harrison Smith, and Josh Metellus will likely be sent with great regularity. Maybe those obvious passing moments will prompt Flores to trot out his trio of pass rushers and then intermix his blitzing options in an unpredictable, creative manner.

Of course, Flores isn’t going to feel constrained to only sending four pass rushers. The point is simply that there are moments when generating pressure with just four is preferable since it leaves more men for coverage responsibilities. To that end, Minnesota will be thinking long and hard about their most dangerous quartet.

In a perfect world, the Vikings will need to confront the scenario we’re exploring with some regularity. Protecting a lead is a luxury the Vikings want to have, so they’ll be looking to devise a plan for their most formidable pass-rushing foursome for when the situation calls for it.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, Sports Reference CFB and PFF 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.