Asked Wednesday about second-year defensive end D.J. Wonnum, Minnesota Vikings co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson responded with a lecture about the importance of sacks to a football team.
“Sacks,” he said, “are low priority.”
It’s not that Patterson and fellow co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer won’t take as many sacks as they can get. The Vikings are tied for second in the NFL with 13 and will be looking for more in Sunday’s noon kickoff against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. It will be important with Jared Goff now behind center in Detroit.
The last time the Vikings played Goff, he led the Super Bowl-bound Rams to a 38-31 victory in Los Angeles, passing for 465 yards and five touchdowns. Asked Thursday what he remembered of that game, Vikings safety Harrison Smith said, “Obviously it didn’t go well for the defense. That’s what I remember.”
For the record, the Vikings sacked Goff once back on Sept. 27, 2018, and Kirk Cousins was caught four times.
After last Sunday’s 14-7 loss to Cleveland, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said reporters pay too much attention to stats and if they’d see what he sees, they’d see a Vikings team better than its record (1-3). Patterson was right in line with his comments when asked about Wonnum, who has six tackles and no sacks while playing 185 defensive snaps in the Vikings’ four games.
What’s important for a rushing lineman, Patterson said, is the pressure he puts on the quarterback, sack or no sack.
“If you take a D-lineman, and you put all his value on sacks, it’s not smart,” he said. “It’s not smart. I get it, they get paid off of sacks, but sacks don’t win you games. They don’t. That’s just the fact of the matter.”
Which would help explain the Vikings’ 1-3 record heading into their first NFC North game of the young season. The Lions are 0-4 and will be missing pass rusher Romeo Okwara, who signed one of those contracts Patterson was talking about, a three-year extension worth $37 million after pulling down 10 sacks in 2020.
Okwara tore an Achilles tendon in last weekend’s 24-14 loss at Chicago. On the other end, Michael Brockers, who signed a three-year, $24 million contract to leave the Los Angeles Rams, has been slowed by a shoulder injury and was a limited participant in practice on Thursday. Brockers has one sack this season and had five total tackles in a season-low 37 snaps against the Bears.
“He’s a great player, a big free-agent addition for them,” Vikings center Garret Bradbury said. “We’re going through all of our individual studies of their personnel but just scheme-wise, you’ve got to understand what they’re trying to do. (Brockers) can play a bunch of different positions, but we kind of understand when he’s in certain places.”
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been sacked seven times this season, among the best in the NFL. He went down twice against the Browns while the Vikings got to Baker Mayfield three times, including a sack by Everson Griffen to end the Browns’ first drive on downs inside the 10.
“Griff’s sack before the half was a big-time, game-changing play,” Patterson said. “So, the whole world sees that, OK? But I can go through a game — and I’ve had it before in my career — where a guy has three sacks in the game and the whole world recognizes he played a great game (and) those were the only three good plays he had the whole game.”
Danielle Hunter, back from missing last season because of a neck injury that required surgery, leads the Vikings with five sacks, followed by Griffen and tackle Michael Pierce with two each. Pierce, who had an MRI after leaving last week’s game with an elbow injury, appears unlikely to play on Sunday.
“We’ll see how the week goes,” head coach Mike Zimmer said of Pierce on Monday.
If Pierce can’t play, Patterson said he feels comfortable adding James Lynch, a second-year interior lineman who has yet to play this season, to a rotation that includes veterans Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson, noticeably active after Pierce was pulled from Sunday’s loss.
Tomlinson, who joined the Vikings this season after four seasons with the New York Giants, was on board with Patterson, who noted that a lineman will play between 450 and 500 defensive snaps a year and the best of them might perform 15 sack dances a year.
“Mostly it’s, ‘How can I affect the quarterback?’ ” Tomlinson said. “Even if that’s getting an offensive lineman to step on his toe, or pushing him right into his face when he’s throwing the ball so he can’t follow through all the way. … Batting a ball down or getting a hand up so he can’t just throw it directly at the (receiver) — put a little extra height on the ball.
“So, pretty much any way we can affect the quarterback from the inside is what we focus on.”