Instead of dropping eight into coverage (like Flores did against Jalen Hurts), Flores decided to blitz Herbert.
Flores wound up blitzing Hebert on 81.6% of his dropbacks. The figure is the highest since 2013 when Colin Kaepernick was blitzed on 87.5% of his dropbacks.
Despite Flores’ aggressive nature, Herbert wasn’t phased.
According to Pro Football Focus, Herbert completed 34 of his 40 attempts while blitzed for 317 yards and three touchdowns. His average depth of target on these throws was just 6.7 yards, signaling a specific approach to combating the pressure from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
The Vikings’ inability to create pressure when sending extra rushers is the unfortunate reality of the Vikings’ personnel.
Here’s the problem: Marcus Davenport is injured, and Ivan Pace is an off-ball linebacker.
The Vikings don’t have enough players who consistently win in pass-rush situations. As a result, cornerbacks are stressed to hold blocks even longer, and offenses can drive down the field without concern.
On the Chargers’ second drive, Justin Herbert and company drove 79 yards down the field on 12 plays and took close to six minutes off the clock. The Vikings tried everything to challenge Herbert, including sending multiple players and trying various stunts to get home.
However, the Vikings had no answer. Herbert dinked his way down the field, and all the Vikings could do was watch.
Here is a look at why some of the Vikings’ playcalls on that drive failed and if the problem(s) can be fixed.
Play 1: 2nd & 10 at the Chargers 33
However, Wonnum is practically a non-factor in this play. That’s partly because Wonnum is incredibly slow off the blocks. His first step needs to be quicker because it would not allow Parham to get to his spot before Wonnum.
In reality, only one player does anything to move the pocket, and that’s Harrison Phillips (97). However, interior pressure does nothing if others do not force him inside.
Herbert gets a clean pocket and enough time to find Mike Williams for an easy gain. This is target practice for Herbert. There is no pressure he has to worry about, and when he’s going to throw the ball, Danielle Hunter can’t get a hand up and potentially disrupt the window.
Play 2: 3rd & 5 at the Chargers 38
On the next play, the Vikings run a look with one down lineman and four players standing up. The look is designed to confuse the opposing quarterback and offensive line because neither knows if a player will drop into coverage or rush the quarterback.
The Vikings choose to run a stunt on the right side of the film (left side of the line), which includes Wonnum and Patrick Jones II (91) crashing in to free up Hicks.
If run properly, the left side of the offensive line would struggle to pass off each rusher, allowing someone to break free. However, the play is passed off beautifully.
If Jones occupies Zion Johnson for longer, he’s likely unable to take Wonnum, allowing Hicks to run free. However, Jones is passed off to the center, and the Vikings’ pass rush is neutralized.
The other problem is that Keenan Allen can get a clean release and is never pushed off his route. The speed out by Allen gets open with no problem because no one attempts to slow him down until he gets to the break. Combine that with the lack of pass rush, and it’s an easy throw for Herbert who gets the ball out quickly.
Play 3: 1st & 10 at the Chargers 45
At points, the Chargers seemed determined to allow anyone but Danielle Hunter to beat them. As a result, they’d often motion a tight end to Hunter’s side. The tight end would chip Hunter before heading into a route. This chip would slow Hunter down and give help to the offensive tackle.
While the chip slows down Hunter, Wonnum has a good rep here. Wonnum gets the left tackle and creates pressure on Herbert but can’t wrap him up. As a result, Herbert steps up in the pocket, and the lack of interior pressure allows Herbert to run free for a big gain.
Pass rush is one of the many parts of football that requires multiple players to make an impact. It’s a sum of all parts responsibility, and if one part is lacking, the pass rush likely struggles.
Wonnum’s pressure means nothing here because the interior pass rush from Jaquelin Roy and Harrison Phillips isn’t there. If they get pressure from the inside, Herbert is forced to roll towards one of the edge rushers or make a throw.
Can the pass rush problems be fixed?
As the Vikings enter the midseason point, there are few ways to improve your roster.
Signing a player from free agency could help solve a problem, but a free agent signing this late in the season is only a depth signing. There’s a reason why a player remains on the free agent market in late September, and it’s not because they’re good.
The Vikings need to rely on what they have in-house, which means they need to pray for Marcus Davenport to return from his injury. Davenport was a limited participant in practice this week, but he hasn’t put together enough time on the practice field to say he’ll play.
D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones II are fine depth options, but neither has the skill to be consistent starters. They’re players that need to be schemed pass-rushing opportunities, and them being on the field together creates a problem.
Unfortunately, the personnel from the interior leaves little pass-rush juice. Jaquelin Roy had promising reps in college, but his statistical output dropped every season. Dean Lowry is seeing the field less as he struggles to make an impact, and Khyiris Tonga or Jonathan Bullard aren’t good pass rushers.
Akiem Hicks is a popular name amongst fans, but Hicks missed six games last season with an injury and wasn’t very efficient when he played. He might add some extra depth, but he isn’t solving your pass-rushing woes at 33 years old.