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Blitzing More Could Play Into A Vikings' Strength

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Pictured: The most efficient pass rushing linebacker in the NFL over the last three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Pictured: The most efficient pass rushing linebacker in the NFL over the last three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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As we've seen all too often over the course of the past few seasons, the Vikings' willingness to blitz on defense has been minimal at best. We saw in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of the 2010 season that then-interim defensive coordinator Fred Pagac appeared to be more apt to blitz than either of his predecessors with the Vikings, Leslie Frazier and Mike Tomlin. The Vikings' defense, and Antoine Winfield in particular, harassed Michael Vick all night long with heavy pressure, leading to six sacks and what turned into a 20-13 upset victory.

(The Vikings are still undefeated on Tuesdays, by the way.)

Pro Football Focus gave us some more insight into the pass rushing skills of the NFL's linebackers, not only this past season, but over the course of the past three years as well. Overall, it says that the Vikings are a very efficient blitzing team, and if Coach Pagac is inclined to do it more often this season than we've seen in the past, it could very well be highly beneficial to the Vikings as a whole.

Starting with just 2010, we see two members of the Vikings that are in the top dozen on PFF's rankings of pass rushing for linebackers. Chad Greenway find himself third on this list. . .he blitzed 91 times in 2010, and got to the quarterback 16 times, giving him a pass rushing productivity (PRP) rating of 13.74. Only one player listed in the top 30 had fewer pass rushing snaps than Greenway, so while Greenway didn't blitz often, he was generally pretty good when he did. In the twelfth spot on the 2010 list, we find E.J. Henderson, who got to the quarterback 14 times in 105 pass rushing snaps, giving him a PRP of 10.24. Only nine of the top 30 linebackers listed had fewer pass rushing snaps than Henderson did.

It gets even better when we move to the most efficient pass rushing linebackers of the last three seasons, where we find two Minnesota Vikings in the top five, including the name on the top of the list. Surprisingly, that name is not E.J. Henderson or Chad Greenway, but Minnesota's other starting linebacker, Ben Leber. According to PFF, Leber is the most efficient pass rushing linebacker of the past three years, generating 45 pressures on 204 pass rushing snaps for a PRP of 17.03. Greenway is also on that list at number five, generating the same number of pressures as Leber (45), but getting 81 more opportunities to rush, making him slightly less efficient.

PFF also says that the only reason that all three Vikings' starting linebackers aren't on the list is because of Henderson's lack of snaps, presumably due to injuries suffered in 2008 and 2009. PFF says that Henderson's PRP over the last three seasons is actually higher than Greenway's, which would give Minnesota the most efficient pass rushing group of linebackers in the NFL by a very considerable margin.

Of course, we don't know if Leber will be back in 2011, but hopefully something can be worked out.

Given the blitzing prowess of the Vikings' starting linebackers, not to mention the blitzing abilities of Antoine Winfield, it's no wonder that Fred Pagac might be more apt to send extra guys at opposing quarterbacks in 2011. Hopefully these players can keep blitzing at the same level of efficiency that they've shown in recent seasons.