D-Line 'Em Up: What's Wrong With Jared Allen This Season?
Seven weeks into the 2010 season, the Minnesota Vikings are a disaster.
If you watch ESPN, you may think the Vikings' only significant problems revolve around Brett Favre's balky elbow and his battle with head coach Brad Childress for control of the offense. But there are reasons beyond Favre for the Vikings' 2-4 start, and among the most significant is the seeming decline of defensive end Jared Allen.
Six games into the season, Allen has only one sack. For a defensive end who has had 14 1/2 sacks or more in each of the past three seasons (and has never had less than 7 1/2 in a seven-year NFL career), it's a pretty shocking decline. At this point last year, Allen had 7 1/2 sacks (6 1/2 more than this year), 11 more tackles and two more quarterback hurries then he currently has.
To get a better idea of what's going on with Allen, I charted every play he participated in during the Vikings' loss to Green Bay last week. I'd also charted his Week 1 game against the Saints, and to get a comparison to what Allen looked like in the past, also watched Allen's every snap from a 2008 game against the Packers.
Against the Packers last week, Allen had one tackle, one quarterback hurry and one interception. The interception was obviously a big play, but for defensive ends, interceptions are more of flukes then a significant part of their game. Allen is paid to rush the quarterback, and when it comes to that, Allen wasn't really a factor on Sunday. And he hasn't been a factor this season.
Against the Packers, Allen was handled by left tackle Chad Clifton without any regular help. I counted only three pass plays where the Packers used a second blocker to contain Allen, and one of those wasn't by design -- guard Daryn Colledge had no one to block so he slid over to help out. By itself that doesn't mean much -- in the 2008 game I rewatched, the Packers also asked Clifton to block Allen one-on-one for most of the game, but in that game, Allen took advantage for a sack of Aaron Rodgers in the end zone, a quarterback hurry and a tackle for a loss. In this game, Allen's desire to break his sack streak made him vulnerable in the running game while failing to cause protection problems in the passing game.
At this point, it's hard to say that Allen is even the Vikings' best defensive end. Allen has always generated his sacks from a quick first step and a relentless motor that allows him to sometimes outwork and outlast the man blocking him. But against Clifton this past week, he showed very few pass-rushing moves, and his first step was no longer quick enough to get him to the corner. The only quarterback pressure he had came when the Packers ran a fake field goal -- on that play, backup center Jake Spitz had to try to block him.
On 15 of the 38 pass plays, Allen used a speed rush to attempt to beat Clifton around the edge. It rarelly worked. When he tried to change it up and drive Clifton back into quarterback Aaron Rodgers it worked a little better, but Clifton was able to anchor and slow down his rush before he reached the quarterback. Allen once showed a spin move, but it wasn't anything like the spin move that Dwight Freeney employs to paralyze offensive tackles.
If Allen and the rest of the front four can't generate a pass rush, the Vikings' defense doesn't have many other options. Minnesota does not try to confuse offenses -- they trust the front four to beat the men they are lined up against. A big part of that pressure depends on Allen getting consistent pressure. If Allen is being easily shut down, quarterbacks have time to throw against a rather mediocre Vikings secondary.
But there's another problem with Allen's troubles. Because he's not producing sacks, Allen seems to be getting a little antsy to break the slump. On numerous running plays, Allen fired off the ball and headed upfield to beat Clifton around the corner. When he realized it was a run, he was five yards off the line, having created a rather massive hole between him and the rest of the line. The Packers didn't take advantage of the holes that Allen was creating until the second half, when they gashed the Vikings for a couple of nice runs, including an 11-yarder.
As a 28-year-old, Allen would not appear to be old enough to be over the hill. And while It's also possible that Allen has some sort of injury that isn't being publicized, right now Allen doesn't deserve to be considered one of the best defensive ends in the game.