Vikings defensive end Jared Allen typically encounters his share of double teams, chip blocks and max-protection schemes designed to neutralize his pass rush. Probably not this week, though.
Allen anticipates a tough, old-fashioned one-on-one duel against Cleveland Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, who usually operates on an island, sans help.
“I’m excited to see who’s going to win on each given play,” Allen said.
This is a heavyweight matchup between two of the best at their respective positions in the NFL. Allen has been named first-team All-Pro four times; Thomas three times. They have a combined for 11 Pro Bowl nominations.
Allen has compiled the most sacks (118) in the NFL since entering the league in 2004. Thomas has started all 98 games in his career and has not missed a single offensive snap.
Their only meeting came in the 2009 season opener in Cleveland. Allen was credited with only one tackle and no sacks in a 34-20 victory.
Allen said he appreciates matchups like this one because he knows he’ll get his share of single blocks. Thomas doesn’t need extra help to hold his own.
“The guy is, if not the top offensive tackle in the league, he’s definitely one of them,” Allen said. “A lot of it comes down to being really good on first and second down and force them into third-and-long. You force a team to spread out and you can create some one-on-one opportunities.”
Third-and-long also brings crowd noise into the equation, something the Vikings use to their advantage at Mall of America Field. Since 2008, the Vikings have collected 119 sacks in 38 games at the Metrodome. They have 98 sacks in 42 games on the road in that same span.
Their pass rush is simply harder to contain at home because of the effect crowd noise has on offensive linemen.
“You feel like you got them on their heels vs. when you’re in an opponent’s stadium, you can hear everything,” Allen said. “Here at the Dome, that energy and the onus is on them to communicate. The onus is on them to get the snap count and we just go. It definitely helps.”
Thomas hasn’t played an NFL game at the Metrodome, but he understands the challenge that awaits an offensive line that has struggled to protect its quarterback through two games.
“It’s really loud and it’s a fast turf,” he said. “Those two things put together are always difficult for offensive linemen. And for the last several years, the Vikings have had a really good defensive line with good pass rushers. So you put a place where it’s difficult to hear the snap count and the calls and the adjustments together with fast rushers and a fast turf, those are difficult situations to work under.”
The Browns aren’t exactly an impenetrable outfit right now, either. They lead the NFL in sacks allowed (11) and quarterback hits (27). Complicating matters is the Browns are starting their No. 3 quarterback, Brian Hoyer, and they traded running back Trent Richardson to the Colts in the middle of the week.
Despite the chaos, Thomas remains a stalwart on the left side, and the Browns need him to handle his matchup with Allen without requiring much help.
“He’s very crafty,” Thomas said. “He’s very fast, athletic, he bends really well and he doesn’t have many weaknesses. I think that’s what made him such an enduring defensive end and getting the number of sacks that he’s gotten year in and year out.”
The Browns are one of only four teams that Allen hasn’t registered a sack against in his career, along with the Saints, Steelers and Seahawks. Of course, he’s only faced the Browns two times in his career. He hopes to remove one team from that list Sunday.
“I try to go out every week and just do whatever I’ve got to do to win a football game and try to be the best,” he said. “But I appreciate you pointing that out.”