The Vikings defensive end is one of the best in the business at sacking opposing quarterbacks. As he explains, there's a method to his madness.
Jared Allen played more than 1,000 snaps last season, rushed the quarterback on roughly half of those and nearly set an NFL record with 22 sacks. That small mathematical percentage underscores Allen's contention that sacking the quarterback is not always an easy task.
"It's tough to get there," he said.
The Vikings All-Pro defensive end does it better than most, though. Since entering the league in 2004, Allen has collected 107 sacks, more than any player. He's led the NFL in sacks twice -- no player in league history has done that three times -- and he's a lock to record the second-most sacks by any player through his first nine seasons, trailing only the great Reggie White.
"This league is built on what have you done for me lately," said Allen, who has two sacks and 10 quarterback hurries this season. "No matter what you did the year before, you've got to come out and do it again or otherwise you're really no value to anybody."
Allen sat down with me recently to watch tape and dissect his preparation and approach as a pass rusher. He identified areas that serve as the foundation for his sustained success.
Effort plus technique
Opponent: Tampa Bay, Sept. 18, 2011
Bucs tackle Donald Penn lunged at Allen's feet at the snap, causing him to fall. Allen quickly got up and chased down Josh Freeman, a play that typified Allen's relentless pass rush and nonstop pursuit of the quarterback.
Allen's insight: "There are certain things I can control. I can control how good of condition I'm in and I can control wanting it more than the other guy. If I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get the quarterback, if I'm willing to do whatever it takes to beat my guy, I'm going to win more than I lose. I'm not a blazing fast guy. I'm not an overpowering guy. I'm a leverage-technique guy. That's how I rush. If my technique is better than yours, I will win the majority of the time. You've just got to know your strengths."
Quick off the ball
Opponent: Washington, Dec. 24, 2011
Allen exploded off the line with a speed rush to beat tackle Willie Smith and sack Rex Grossman. Allen excels at anticipating snap counts and getting a quick jump. He credits studying film of former Kansas City Chiefs star Derrick Thomas early in his career.
Allen's insight: "There's some trade secrets that I can't give away. There's certain things you can watch and obviously there's a play clock. You can kind of get an idea when a team wants to snap the ball. Offenses do stuff to tip their hand a little bit. You can tell if a guy is lazy in his stance, they're not about to snap the ball versus when a guy is glaring right at you."
In search of turnovers
Opponent: Carolina, Oct. 30, 2011
Allen beat a single block by tackle Jordan Gross and caused a sack-strip of rookie Cam Newton by chopping down on his arm. Allen has forced 27 fumbles since 2005 -- tied for third most in the NFL -- and always tries to knock the ball loose.
Allen's insight: "Unfortunately, I've missed two [sacks] this year by going for the football. I missed two in the Colts game. I came scot-free around the edge and I thought [Andrew Luck] was going to throw the ball and you go for the strip and he pulls it down. It's kind of the progression for how it works. Once you get to the quarterback, you're trying to make a big play."
Opponent: Detroit, Dec. 11, 2011
The Lions used two tight ends to double Allen off the line, but he worked past both and sacked Matthew Stafford. Double teams, running back "chip help" and extra attention are a way of life for Allen, who doesn't see many one-on-one matchups.
Allen's insight: "You just expect it. You look at formation tendencies and where a guy lines up. If a running back is in a chip position, I'm expecting to get it. You've got to use those situations to your advantage. If there's two people on me, there's somebody who has a one-on-one. Sometimes the chip will screw the offense up. You can actually use that against them, whether you spin off it or split it. When you get one-on-one opportunities, you've got to win more than you lose."
Finding a rhythm
Opponent: Detroit, Sept. 25, 2011
Allen had his way with tackle Jeff Backus and finished with three sacks, one of six times in his career that he's notched at least three sacks in one game, including a career-high 4 1/2 against Aaron Rodgers in 2009. Allen tends to get sacks in bunches when he finds a rhythm.
Allen's insight: "You get a sense of when you've got a guy. When you've got a guy, now he's guessing where you're going to go. Those are games you don't want to end. I remember in that Green Bay game, there wasn't anything I couldn't do. Sometimes you get in that mode and everything you're doing is working properly. That's why I always say you have to be so good on first and second down because if you're in third-and-short or allow a team to run the ball on you, then your rhythm is broken because you don't know what they're going to do. Third-and-4 or less, they've got the whole playbook open for you. When you get into third-and-7 and have a lead, it allows you to rush, rush, rush. That's when you get to heat them up."
Setting up counter moves
Opponent: San Francisco, Sept. 23, 2012
Allen sealed a victory with a sack-strip of Alex Smith with 1:41 left. Allen set up that sack with how he rushed on previous downs. He often uses the same move repeatedly to set up a counter move later on.
Allen's insight: "A lot of times a sack is a rhythm breaker. If I'm getting a guy into a rhythm, I might have three, four or five rushes where I'm up the field. I'm obviously trying to win. But if I don't get there, I know if I give this guy the same look, then counter off of it, you have a greater chance of winning."
Sacking the best
Opponent: Denver, Dec. 4, 2011
Allen made a diving, shoestring sack of a scrambling Tim Tebow. Allen has sacked 50 different quarterbacks in his career, including some big names -- Brady, Brees, Manning (both brothers), Favre, Vick, Rivers, Rodgers and Romo.
Allen's insight: "I've got the majority of the big ones. Probably the best is Peyton Manning. It took me five years to get him. He gets rid of the ball so fast. I haven't gotten Drew [Brees] since he was playing in San Diego. It's always fun to sack the top guys because that's why they're the top guys -- they get the ball out so fast. Sometimes those guys give you a little extra time because they might hold it a half-second longer just because they know they can fit the ball in tight places. Plus, it looks a little better on your résumé at the end of the year, right?"
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org