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'Not afraid' to get after quarterbacks, Vikings blitzing at league-high rate

Packers, QB Jordan Love preparing for potpourri of pressure looks

Vikings LB Danielle Hunter
Vikings LB Danielle Hunter

GREEN BAY – The rate at which the Vikings blitz quarterbacks isn't normal. Neither is Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur's description of their pass rush.

"They're not afraid," LaFleur said Wednesday. "Sometimes it's going to look like a punt rush."

That's what the Packers must prepare for ahead of Sunday's matchup at Lambeau Field, as Minnesota's new defensive coordinator, Brian Flores, never hesitates to bring the heat.

According to Pro Football Reference, the Vikings lead the league with a 56.4% blitz rate, defined as sending more than four rushers on a pass play. The next closest team (New England) is at 42%, and only one team in the last five years (the 2019 Baltimore Ravens) has blitzed more than 50% over an entire season based on PFR's metrics.

"I haven't really faced a defense like Minnesota the way they run it," first-year starting QB Jordan Love said. "You've got have a good plan for it going into it. You've got to have a good week of practice, understanding the plan, understanding where you want to go when they do bring those blitzes with certain looks.

"I think we do have a good plan."

The specifics will be revealed come Sunday, but against a defense that likes to dial up so much pressure, communication of protection calls and hot reads is paramount. Players up front and on the perimeter must be ready to adjust assignments based on the defensive look, and then execute accordingly.

How much success the Vikings are having with their blitz-happy approach is debatable. They do have 19 sacks through seven games, a total tied for 10th in the league, with nine of those recorded by edge rusher Danielle Hunter.

But opposing QBs are still completing 74.6% of their passes and posting a 100.5 overall passer rating against the Vikings. So their blitzes can and have been beaten.

The trick is to not be surprised by them, and regardless of system, one Minnesota defender who's always made it difficult to decipher his and the defense's intentions is veteran safety Harrison Smith.

LaFleur called the six-time Pro Bowler "a thorn in everybody's side" who's "all over the map," lining up deep, at the line of scrimmage, or anywhere in between, and not giving away what he's up to.

"I don't think there's any figuring it out," Love said of Smith. "He's going to mess around and disguise looks and different things. You don't really know what he's doing until the snap of the ball. So you've just got to be prepared that he's going to drop, he's going to blitz, and we've got to be ready for it, for whatever he does.

"He's a vet, he knows what he's doing. He waits 'til the ball is snapped to kind of tip his (hand)."

Smith has certainly been a pain over the years against the Packers, recording six interceptions and three sacks in 21 career games (including playoffs). He has three sacks this season while looking for his first INT of 2023.

Love would like to keep those numbers right there as the Packers look to turn around their penchant for slow starts offensively, a trend that has now reached four straight games.

The last time the Packers scored a touchdown in the first half of a game was back in Week 2 at Atlanta, and the Vikings will look to use their pressure scheme to keep the Packers struggling early on.

"We're just looking for that spark, somebody to go out there and make a play," Love said. "I think that's what's been missing so far in the first half. We do good, we move the ball, get in field-goal range and things like that, but we just need that spark."

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