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How the Vikings will use their linebackers to try and confuse Jets protection schemes

San Francisco 49ers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

This week the Jets will face the Minnesota Vikings, led by head coach Mike Zimmer. Zimmer’s play calling frequently reaps the benefits of blitzes without actually blitzing. Sometimes simulated pressure is as good as or even better than the real thing.

Let’s take a look at a third down play from Minnesota’s game last week against Arizona to demonstrate.

On this play, the Vikings have two linebackers (orange) showing blitz presnap in addition to three defensive linemen.

We can guess the three defensive linemen are going to rush the passer. Now with the two linebackers showing blitz, it looks like the Vikings will have five pass rushers. As a response, the Cardinals set their protection to slide four of their offensive linemen left (from their vantage point; the four linemen are sliding to the Vikings’ right, which is the vantage point in the picture).

These four offensive linemen are sliding in the direction of the two linebackers (and two of the defensive linemen).

It is the perfect protection for the blitz the Vikings show.

There’s only one problem. The Vikings aren’t blitzing those linebackers. Those two linebackers actually drop into coverage at the snap.

Furthermore, cornerback Mackensie Alexander is rushing the passer, and he is coming from the area of the field the line is sliding away from.

One of the benefits of blitzing comes from simply tying up blockers. If you blitz six guys against five blockers, somebody is going to run free at the quarterback since no offensive lineman can block two guys at once.

This defensive call actually ties up blockers without blitzing. Two Cardinals offensive linemen aren’t blocking anybody. They are occupied, however, because the presnap look forced them to pay attention to the linebackers who initially showed blitz. As a result, Alexander has a huge lane to run through.

The defense ends up with the best of both worlds. Blockers are occupied as though there is a blitz. Yet the risk is lower than your typical blitz since dropping the linebackers has added extra bodies in coverage.

It also creates an additional layer of complexity for the quarterback. He now has to figure out the presnap look he got from the defense was fake and notice those linebackers are in coverage instead of coming after him.

Bringing the linebackers close to the line of scrimmage to threaten blitz and then dropping them is a Zimmer staple. The offense can’t just assume they will retreat at the snap. The Vikings have them blitz at times to keep the opponent honest.

It makes this scheme tricky to go up against.