EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jared Allen and Brian Robison, the Minnesota Vikings’ pass-rushing defensive ends, insist they don’t look at Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals any differently than any other game.
Allen says he’s always excited to play. Robison says they “always salivate” at the thought of getting after opposing quarterbacks, no matter the team. But with Arizona’s struggling offensive line coming to the Metrodome, there exists the distinct possibility of adding on to sack numbers both players admit they wish were higher this season.
The Cardinals have allowed a league-high 28 sacks this season, including 22 in the past three games. But if Allen and Robison are eager to get a chance to build on their sack numbers at the expense of Arizona’s line, they aren’t giving the Cardinals any chalkboard motivation.
“We always salivate no matter what the team is,” Robison said. “We want to get after the quarterback and things like that. Fact of the matter is, we’ve got to see what their game plan is, and the only way we can do that is by stopping their run game. If we do that, we put them in situations hopefully we get a little bit of a lead and be able to get after them.”
Allen and Robison, who combined for 30 sacks last year while Allen was challenging the league-record with 22, will be facing Arizona tackles D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie. Batiste has started all six games at left tackle, his first-ever starts at the position. Massie, a rookie fourth-round pick from Mississippi, is the only Cardinals rookie to start all six games, logging his time at right tackle.
“You can’t dictate it because you start worrying about one thing, your focus shifts,” Allen said. “And every time you go out and you try to force a pass-rush situation, or you try to get this or you try to get that, A, you’re affecting the integrity of the defense, so now I’m letting down 10 other guys. And, B, you don’t accomplish what you need to accomplish. The game is a rhythm. Things are going to come.”
Arizona rebuilt its offensive line this season, nearly accounting for a full changeover from the line the Vikings played last season when Allen and Robison each had two sacks against the Cardinals. Left tackle Levi Brown was put on injured reserve before the season started, and only center Lyle Sendlein is back as a starter this season. The Cardinals, who are going back to quarterback John Skelton after Kevin Kolb was injured last week, is the only team in the NFL that has had to change quarterbacks twice due to injury.
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said some of the protection issues have been a result of game situations and needing to pass due to big deficits in recent games.
“We were banged up in the line,” Whisenhunt said. “We lost Levi, and we have a rookie at the right side. So there are going to be some growing pains. And we can’t afford to give up that many sacks, and it’s something we’re working on, and we’re just looking at ways to get better.”
Allen, who leads the team with four sacks after tallying one in each of the past four games, recalled a similar situation when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2005 playing against the Houston Texans, who allowed 68 sacks that season. Allen was salivating then, but Houston’s game plan ended up negating the pass rush and the Chiefs had only one sack but won, 45-17.
Arizona will try to take the bite out of the Minnesota pass rush, but Allen and Robison hope to follow the same formula the Cardinals’ opponents established the past three weeks: get an early lead and stop the run.
“Now, if we can be good on first or second down, or even first down, you get some second-and-long or third-and-long situations, then you can pin your ears back and you can get after it,” Allen said. “And if you can do that over and over, you create rhythms.”
Robison, who has only one sack this season after eight in 2011 in his first year as a full-time starter, is looking forward to adding to his total but also knows the pressure the Vikings have put on quarterbacks, even when it doesn’t result in sacks, helps the defense.
“If you’re putting pressure on the quarterback, it can result in things like interceptions, turnovers, or just having him throw the ball away,” Robison said. “Those are just as important to get off the field as a sack is. Bottom line is, we want to get to the quarterback more, but we’re doing some things that are very good pass rush-wise that are putting pressure on the quarterback.”
Owusu, Holmes swapped again: For the third time this season, the Vikings have swapped offensive lineman Tyler Holmes and defensive lineman Ernest Owusu on Thursday.
This week, Minnesota re-signed Holmes to the practice squad, waiving Owusu.