On Sunday the Jaguars defense continued what's becoming a pattern of bringing five-man blitzes early and often to stymie Dalvin Cook, the Vikings' outside zone running game and bootleg play-action passes, according to coach Mike Zimmer.
The pattern likely isn't going anywhere this week against the blitz-happy Buccaneers, because Jacksonville's pressures were effective. Quarterback Kirk Cousins averaged just 5.8 yards per throw while being blitzed on 34.7% of his dropbacks.
"Basically, Carolina did the same thing [in the Nov. 29 win]," Zimmer said, "They blitzed a lot of linebackers, blitzed the safeties off the edges. So, they're trying to set the edges with those guys coming, and then if it happens to be a pass, they've got some extra rushers.
"But we have some ways to affect that, as well. And you know, we're still scoring 26 points a game."
Coordinator Gary Kubiak adjusted during Sunday's 27-24 overtime win with some quicker throws, and Cousins actually minimized damage while taking a season-worst four sacks and a career-worst 14 hits. The Panthers levied nine hits on Cousins the week before.
"He took some shots and hung in there and made some great throws," Zimmer said. "He's been under a little bit of duress the last two weeks. We have an opportunity to slow some of that down by some of the things we're doing."
Only two NFL defenses blitz more than Tampa at 39.3%, according to Pro Football Reference, meaning the Vikings offensive line will remain under siege. They're at full strength again with rookie Ezra Cleveland's return from an ankle injury, but there is much room for improvement.
"They had a few more line movements than we anticipated," Cleveland said, "but after the first half, we ended up settling down and hunkering in and turning back to our technique. I think that really helped us throughout the game. We definitely got better as the game progressed."
The Vikings are waiting to see how calf injuries to linebacker Eric Kendricks and cornerback Jeff Gladney respond this week, according to Zimmer, before determining availability for Sunday in Tampa Bay. Gladney's right calf was evaluated by trainers after he hopped off the field in the fourth quarter and did not return. Kendricks aggravated a left calf injury in warmups and missed his first game to injury in two years. Linebacker Todd Davis, a veteran free agent addition in September, had 11 combined tackles while playing all 71 snaps for Kendricks.
"It's the NFL. It's 2020," safety Harrison Smith said Monday. "You just kind of roll with whatever's happened and unfortunately he couldn't go, and that was the right move. I know it hurt him.
"[Todd Davis] stepped in and played great. Eric Wilson did some things he's not always doing, so he played great. Troy Dye — we got guys that can play."
'Big' on special teams
Rookie Dan Chisena had a quiet impact in overtime when the coverage gunner corralled Jaguars returner Keelan Cole Sr. after a 52-yard punt and drew a 10-yard holding penalty.
That flipped field position from the Vikings' 20-yard line to Jacksonville's 18-yard line. Smith intercepted Glennon three plays later to set up the Vikings' game-winning drive.
"It was big," Zimmer said. "Great punt by [Britton] Colquitt, and then Chisena, he made a great play — got down to beat the gunner or beat the holdup guy, and got down there."