Last season, the Minnesota Vikings led the NFL with 50 sacks. While Jared Allen was responsible for 22 of those 50 sacks, the rest of the defense got to the quarterback as well. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier employs a Cover 2 defensive scheme that puts a big emphases on rushing the passer.
Despite the great pass-rushing statistics, the Vikings still only finished the 2011 season with a 3-13 record. There is reason for great optimism about the 2012 defensive line, which could accumulate more sacks and thus, more wins.
Let's start with right defensive end Jared Allen. After failing to break Michael Strahan's NFL sack record by just a half sack, the All-Pro defensive end is only aiming higher in 2012, telling Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network that "25 sacks isn't unreasonable." With the physical tools Allen possesses and the insane motor he runs off of, I don't doubt for one second that there will be a new NFL leader in sacks next season. Look for Allen to only add to his already Hall-of-Fame statistics in 2012.
Next is defensive tackle Kevin Williams. Since being drafted in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft, Williams has done nothing but produce for the Minnesota Vikings. It sounds as though he wants to continue that production and stay with the Vikings, according to ProFootballTalk.com.
Last season, Williams was suspended for the first two games for allegedly using a "banned substance," then suffered from plantar fasciitis that affected his play. Near the end of the season however, Williams began to show signs of his previous self and ended the 2011 season third on the team with five sacks.
With a new contract in his sights, look for Williams to once again regain his All-Pro form in 2012 by stuffing the run and applying pressure on the quarterback.
Last season, the defensive line (believe it or not) had a glaring hole. It came in the form of nose tackle Remi Ayodele. Signed in the 2011 offseason to be the replacement for Pat Williams, Ayodele never made an impact on the Vikings. He finished the season with only 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Needless to say, Minnesota cut ties with the former Saint after one season, opening the door for our next player to watch in 2012—nose tackle Letroy Guion.
A fifth-round pick by the Vikings in 2008, Guion has shown flashes of greatness in purple. In spot duty with Minnesota, he's accumulated 40 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He's shown the ability to penetrate as a defensive lineman and he possesses great quickness for the position.
New Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has challenged Guion with the task of replacing Pat Williams, a job Ayodele couldn't complete. At 6'4" and 305 pounds, Letroy Guion is a bit undersized to play the nose tackle position, but with a full offseason (which no one had in 2011) to focus on the position, he should be able to put on more weight and increase his strength in order to hold his own on the line.
We'll round out the starters with left defensive end Brian Robison. The former Texas Longhorn proved himself last season in his first year as a full-time starter, registering 44 tackles, three forced fumbles, and eight sacks. Robison should be able to build on his impressive first year as a starter and again produce for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012.
The greatest strength for the Vikings is the defensive line. And it's not just because of starters like Allen, Williams and Robison. There's some depth, too. Minnesota is stacked with talent behind the starters with guys like Everson Griffen, Christian Ballard and Fred Evans.
Defensive end Everson Griffen finished fourth on the team with four sacks and he never once started for the Vikings last season.
The 2010 fourth-rounder has incredible physical talent and the Vikings are doing everything they can to get him on the field. From rotating at both defensive end and defensive tackle to playing some outside linebacker and special teams gunner. Griffen stands at 6'3" and 270 pounds but runs a 4.6 40, an incredible feat for a man that size.
The Vikings have a valuable pass-rusher for nickel schemes and passing downs. With an increase in playing time, Griffen's sack total could increase, too.
If the Minnesota Vikings take the same approach to their defensive line as the New York Giants, opposing quarterbacks will not want to face the speed and tenacity of this defensive front. Look for the Vikings to again lead the league in sacks this year. Only this time, their win-loss total will be much improved.