Pressure's the point for Vikings defensive lineman

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 13, 2012 - 6:24 AM

In a rarity, Vikings defensive linemen didn't record a sack in the opener. That's not a concern, they say.

A trip to Indianapolis couldn't come at a better time for a defensive line whose streak of 25 consecutive games with a sack ended in Sunday's season opener against Jacksonville.

"We're very disappointed about the sacks," said backup defensive end Everson Griffen, a big part of the team's deeper defensive line rotation this season. "But we did win, so all it really does is make us hungry to get to Indianapolis."

Chances are the Vikings defensive line will have plenty to snack on when it gets to Lucas Oil Stadium to face No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck and an offensive line that is in general disarray and even more banged up than it was in last week's 41-21 loss at Chicago. Luck was sacked three times and knocked down eight more while posting a 52.9 passer rating.

"Bottom line is Chicago got some sacks on them last week, did some things against them that we feel like we can do as well," left defensive end Brian Robison said. "It is strange for us not to have a sack on the defensive line, especially when you talk about how much pressure we put on the quarterback. But to me sacks are not the only stat that matters."

The Vikings did apply adequate pressure on Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert on Sunday. Linebacker Erin Henderson and cornerback Chris Cook had sacks while Robison was especially active up front against first-year starting right tackle Cameron Bradfield and backup Guy Whimper, who later replaced the injured Bradfield.

"The fact of the matter is we were in [Gabbert's] face," Robison said. "We flustered him. We got him running out of the pocket. We hit him many times."

But Gabbert also posted a 96.1 passer rating -- 30.7 above last year's league-worst rating -- and had time to throw a 39-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter. And, besides, anytime the Vikings defensive line doesn't get a sack, it's, well, odd.

The linemen had a combined 40 1/2 of the team's league-high 50 sacks a year ago. And during the 25-game streak -- which started a week after the loss at New England on Halloween in 2010 -- Vikings defensive linemen had a combined 58 1/2 sacks. Jared Allen had 32 of those. He also had at least one sack in 13 of 16 games while notching a franchise-record 22 last season.

Asked what worries him most about the Vikings defensive line, Colts first-year coach Chuck Pagano said, "We start with 69 [Allen's number]. He's what we call a game-wrecker. And the guy on the other side [Robison] ain't bad either. We call him a rolling ball of butcher knives."

Pagano also mentioned defensive tackle Kevin Williams and the "ton" of guys [eight] that the Vikings rotate on a consistent basis under new defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

Ironically, the debut of Williams' "hockey line change" mentality for the defensive line produced no sacks. But coach Leslie Frazier sounded satisfied.

"It's something we have to continue to grow and develop and make sure that the guys we do put in for our starters are really living up to the things we expect," Frazier said.

"It was a good start for us to begin and get that rotation going in a fashion that we think will help us over the long haul."

Meanwhile, the Colts are searching for any semblance of stability on their offensive line. After the Bears loss, they released two backup offensive linemen, claimed a rookie lineman off the Buccaneers practice squad and signed Trai Essex, reuniting the former Steeler with new Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who held the same post in Pittsburgh. Essex is listed as a backup guard but can play all five line positions and actually might start at right tackle if Winston Justice (concussion) can't play.

On the left side, starting guard Joe Reitz is expected to miss another game because of a knee injury. If that happens, former Vikings practice squad player Seth Olsen would start again, leaving second-year left tackle Anthony Castonzo as the only starter who was with the team a year ago.

The Vikings obviously like the matchup, but they are being careful not to say so publicly.

"It doesn't matter what anyone thinks," Griffen said. "Even if you think the guy across from you is not good, you still have to go there and make him not good."

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