From behind the great E$PN Paywall, the list-a-mania of the offseason continues, as Matt Bowen (who did some great work at the National Football Post before moving to Bristol) has compiled his list of the five most creative defensive play callers in the National Football League.
Naturally, you couldn't have a list of that nature without including the Minnesota Vikings' tandem of defensive coordinator George Edwards and head coach Mike Zimmer, who are both credited in Bowen's article.
Disguise, pre-snap movement and double A-gap pressure -- that's what you get from Edwards and the Minnesota Vikings in Zimmer's scheme. I use the term "window dressing" a lot with offensive coordinators like Sean Payton and Mike Shula. They are the kings of dressing up formations to run basic route schemes and concepts. But on defense, the Vikings use camouflage as well as anyone in the league to take away throwing lanes and bring an avalanche of pressure on the quarterback.
To start, what does "double A gap" really mean? In Minnesota, that translates to two defenders (usually linebackers) lining up close to the line of scrimmage over the center. That immediately creates some confusion up front in the offensive protection scheme. Are these dudes blitzing? Are they dropping in coverage? Do we need to slide the protection? And where the heck is safety Harrison Smith?
From there, the possibilities for the defense are endless, really. You can drop to 3-deep/3-under (a standard zone-blitz shell). You can drop to a quarters-match scheme. You can take away the open (weak) side hot read. You can roll the safeties. Again, it's not complicated and it doesn't have to be.
. . .
Edwards and Zimmer obviously have a much deeper playbook than just the double A-gap looks, but it's the Vikings' ability to disguise and move off this alignment that really creates issues for opposing offenses. And they have the speed/athleticism on defense to dial this up to get results.
There's an example provided of the Vikings' defense crushing Matthew Stafford in their game at Detroit this past season, but unfortunately we can't use the pictures or anything here.
I do like the fact that Bowen points out that the Vikings' defense isn't necessarily complicated. Rather than a lot of different exotic things to throw at opposing defenses, the Vikings' defensive prowess comes from doing a lower number of things well and having enough athleticism on the defensive side of the ball to be able to pull them off. What Zimmer and Edwards run is a far cry from the bland schemes that Leslie Frazier ran during his time as head coach, when the Vikings relied almost exclusively on Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and the rest of the front four to generate pressure and keeping most of the defense back in coverage. With the Vikings' current defense, you never know who's going after the quarterback or where they're going to be coming from, and they have enough very good athletes at every level to be able to mix and match different things.
The best part? With a couple of exceptions, the Vikings are still very young on defense, and the few older players they do have (Terence Newman, Chad Greenway, and Brian Robison being the most notable) seem to be more than willing to help the next generation get ready for the spotlight.
The Vikings had a lot of rebuilding to do, but this is a team that's no longer rebuilding. . .it's built. Hopefully the combination of Edwards and Zimmer can keep stifling opposing offenses (with Rick Spielman providing them the proper personnel) for a long time to come.