EAGAN, Minn. – Mike Zimmer had warned his team and even the media before the Minnesota Vikings hosted the Buffalo Bills last weekend.
Zimmer, the defensive-minded coach for Minnesota, told everyone who would listen that Buffalo’s defensive line was better than they were being given credit for because of two lopsided losses to begin the season.
The Bills then used that defensive line to batter the Vikings’ offensive line and pressure quarterback Kirk Cousins all day long in Sunday’s 27-6 loss for Minnesota.
“Their defensive line is really good,” Zimmer said after the game. “I told our guys all week long. I said, ‘this defensive line is going to come after you. They’re not going to sit in there and read. They’re going to come after and after you.’ Then they were bringing a fifth guy quite a bit of times. They did a good job covering and we didn’t’ make them pay any because of the way they were playing.”
Buffalo sacked Cousins four times – after totaling four sacks in the first two games of the season against Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco – and caused Cousins to fumble twice. According to Pro Football Focus, Minnesota allowed 29 pressures to the Bills, including two sacks, three quarterback hits and 24 hurries. It was the most hurries of any NFL team in Week 3, according to Pro Football Focus.
Pro Football Focus, the website dedicated to grading each game, said Cousins was pressured on 53.3 percent of his dropbacks, the highest of any qualifying quarterback in the league last week.
“I think we had a good feel for them going in,” Vikings center Brett Jones said Monday of Buffalo. “Each and every week you’re going to get something different from the defense. We’ve just got to be able to adapt each game and just keep moving forward. Flush this game and keep going forward.”
Minnesota has no time to dwell on Sunday’s performance with a Thursday road game upcoming against the Los Angeles Rams. The offensive line doesn’t have much time to prepare for another tough task.
Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Los Angeles’ talented defensive front are waiting.
The Rams brings plenty of pressure, finishing fourth in the league in sacks last year. Los Angeles has just four sacks through three games this season, but is allowing a league-low 12 points per game. It’s sixth in total defense, giving up 296 yards per game.
“They have great players on their front and they try to single you up,” Viking center Pat Elflein said. “Single blocks, one on one blocks; and that’s kind of what I’ve seen so far and they’re good at it. So, we’re going to come ready to play. But that’s every week in the NFL, you have to come ready to play because everyone has great talent.’’
Edge rusher Robert Quinn was traded to the Miami Dolphins in March after 8.5 sacks last season for the Rams, who later signed Suh to bolster the defensive line in Los Angeles’ 3-4 defense. Suh leads the Rams with four quarterback hits. Rookie outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, a fourth-round draft choice out of Eastern Washington, has three quarterback hits.
And then there’s Donald, the reigning defensive player of the year.
“They’ve got playmakers,” Vikings right tackle Rashod Hill said. “I just looked at the guys a little bit, the guys they have, the plays they make, the moves they make. I’m going to look at it today and get ready for them.”
Minnesota will be getting ready with perhaps a new look. Elflein returned Sunday for the first time since undergoing offseason ankle and shoulder injuries. He played 22 snaps, but Jones started his third straight game at center and played 44 snaps.
Hill started on Sunday against Buffalo but left the game early for the second straight week as he deals with a troublesome foot injury. Rookie Brian O’Neill replaced Hill again and played 47 snaps. Hill said he should be ready for Thursday’s game.
“We trust the guys,” Hill said. “So, whoever the unit is out there, we trust each one of us. It don’t matter if it’s two different guys changing out.”
Left tackle Riley Reiff surrendered a total of 12 pressures against Buffalo, according to Pro Football Focus, as he tried to deal with speed rusher Jerry Hughes. Hughes had one sack, two quarterback hits and forced a fumble.
Elflein could be ready to make a start, but he said he hasn’t been told if he’ll start on Thursday.
“I wanted to kind of test the waters a little bit,” Elflein said. “Stamina felt good. I feel great now. It was good to get out there and get the feet wet again a little bit.”
If Elflein starts, its possible Jones could move to guard. Jones started at center and guard last year for New York but has focused mainly at center since coming to Minnesota in a preseason trade.
“I think it’s still early in the week,” Jones said. “I’m just here to do my job and whatever they need me to do. So, going forward, that’s what I’ll do. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll be out there to do it.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings