The Las Vegas Raiders will face a somewhat unique play-caller during their Week 14 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Over the last few years, the Vikings’ defensive coordinator Brian Flores has developed a reputation as one of the most blitz-happy coaches in the NFL.
Even now that he’s with a different club, not much has changed as he’s been dialing up the heat even more as the Vikings rank first in blitz rate at 47.6 percent. And with the Raiders starting a rookie quarterback, it’s a pretty safe bet that trend will continue.
When asked about what standouts about Minnesota’s defense, Aidan O’Connell immediately brought up Flores’ play-calling.
“Yeah, obviously they’re going to bring a lot of pressure,” O’Connell told reporters during his press conference on Wednesday. “They do a lot of different things defensively; the defense is going to try to throw a lot of stuff at you. And obviously, I know I’m a rookie, and so they’re going to do those types of things to me and so just try to prepare as best as possible. I think the coaches are doing a great job of preparing us, preparing a great game plan. I’m confident in myself and our guys to go out and execute.”
According to Pro Football Focus, the fourth-round pick has been blitzed 49 times or a little more than 25 percent of dropbacks during his six appearances this season. He’s handled it decently well so far with a 78.0 adjusted completion percentage (factoring out drops and throwaways) that ranks tied for eighth among quarterbacks.
That’s nearly five percentage points higher than his figure when not facing a blitz, but O’Connell does have a 4.0 percent ‘turnover-worthy’ throw rate that’s tied for the 11th-highest when defensive coordinators dial up the heat. Those instances have certainly provided a few learning opportunities for the rookie.
“Because it’s a team game, it takes everybody,” he replied when asked about what he’s learned about picking up blitzes, “and so it starts with me trying to declare what defense we’re going against, where the MIKE linebacker is, all those things. And so, trying our best to get on the same page with everybody.
“I know I have a lot of responsibility in that to do my job well, and so I take that seriously and I care about doing the right thing. And I think the guys around me can feel the same way. It’s a team sport. That’s why I play it. That’s why I love it. And so, it takes everybody.”
We’ll see how O’Connell handles the heat from Flores on Sunday, but interim head coach Antonio Pierce was certainly inspired by the rookie’s recent performance and seems confident in him heading into the game.
“Since I’ve become the head coach,” Pierce began while speaking of O’Connell’s growth, “the first three games, cool, that last game man that kid played well. He played well. He gave us a shot.
“He gave us a chance to win, took care of the football, made the adjustments, made the corrections that we needed to, was poised, was calm didn’t blink, and that’s what we want to see. And I think everybody around him playing to their optimum level, that’s what we need.
“... When everybody does that, that will help a young quarterback out as well. He is getting confident, you can see it in how he walks through the building, how he’s talking, but more confidence comes with wins and we need that production as well.”
With just five games left and a lot of offseason changes expected to be coming for the Silver and Black, Sunday will be another crucial outing for O’Connell as he attempts to prove himself as a starting quarterback in the National Football League.