EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For all the heat they were able to put on Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on Sunday -- getting pressure on 23.3 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information -- the Minnesota Vikings only sacked Ryan once, on a blitz from Anthony Barr in the fourth quarter.
The rest of the day saw Ryan eluding chances to bring him down, doing some solid work once he escaped the pocket. He hit all four of his throws outside the pocket on Sunday, throwing for 34 yards and a touchdown and converting a 3rd-and-20 when Barr stepped up and left room for Ryan to find Julio Jones for a first down.
Some of those plays might have turned into sacks, or additional pressure on Ryan, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, if the Vikings had done a better job of rushing the quarterback as a team.
"It’s part of us being a team rush; we’re not individual rushers," said Zimmer in response to a question about defensive end Brian Robison missing several sacks on Sunday. "He’s done a good job and we haven’t helped him enough with some of the other guys, not because they’re not trying or they can’t rush. It’s because, like I said before, we are rushing as individuals. It’s no different than any other part of defense. You play good as a team, you know where you’re supposed to be at and then good things happen for other people and consequently good things happen for you.
"Guys feel like they can beat guys one-on-one. The hard part is getting them to understand that we will all have a lot more success, including the individual, if we will do it the right way, and we haven’t done it the right way the last couple of weeks."
The Vikings old Cover-2 scheme gave defensive linemen plenty of chances to rush upfield, but Zimmer's scheme mitigates those opportunities with more calls for linemen to engage blockers and collapse the pocket. Defensive ends typically don't accumulate big sack numbers in Zimmer's scheme -- in fact, only two defensive ends (Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson, both in 2012) posted double-digit sack totals in a season when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Getting the Vikings to grasp the scheme changes has been an ongoing process in Minnesota, and it appears Zimmer isn't fully satisfied with the results yet.
"We have actually pressured OK; what we haven’t done is rush smart," Zimmer said. "We have to rush a lot smarter and same thing with this quarterback. If we give him an opportunity to get out of the pocket a lot of times, a lot of bad things happen.
"(It's) usually when a quarterback moves a little bit and you miss a sack. (We might have sacked him) if we had been a little smarter on the other side, or the push was a little bit better in the middle or we don’t run by the quarterback. It shows up (on film) pretty easily, really."