Not much has been familiar for Yannick Ngakoue as the former Jaguars star transitions to a new playbook, technique and team. But the Vikings defensive end hopes his second game — against a familiar foe in his former AFC South rival Indianapolis Colts — gets the “bad taste” out of his mouth from the first one.
After failing to sack Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during a 43-34 loss in Week 1, Ngakoue and the Vikings defense face one of the league’s best offensive lines Sunday, according to coach Mike Zimmer, featuring Pro Bowlers in left guard Quenton Nelson and center Ryan Kelly.
“They try to get their hands on you and just try to swallow you up,” said Ngakoue, who has 6.5 sacks in eight games against the Colts.
“I’ve just got to try to bring that same intensity that I’ve brought these last four years into this game. Not just that, but just trying to inform the guys that I’m playing with, you know, how they can beat certain guys that are their matchups.”
Reviving the pass rush against the Colts might be even harder amid a recent NFL officiating trend that set at least a 20-year low in Week 1 offensive holding calls last weekend, according to ESPN’s analysis.
The only player called for offensive holding during the Vikings’ opener was Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. It was one of 18 such calls around the league, down 78% from Week 1 in 2019, and defensive minds such as Zimmer already thought officials didn’t flag holding often enough.
“Yeah, that’s difficult,” Zimmer said, “but quite honestly, there could be holding on a lot of plays. Guys get their hands outside the framework and don’t bring them back in time. That’s always difficult. You just kind of go with it, just understand that’s how it is, and you have to fight through it.”
The Vikings defense will continue to play without star defensive end Danielle Hunter, who will remain on injured reserve through at least the next two games against the Colts and Titans. Meanwhile, Ngakoue is still ramping up to form. He was credited with one quarterback hit in 27 pass rushes and no tackles against the Packers and said he hopes another week of practice will make a difference after his Jacksonville holdout kept him from practicing until Sept. 3.
“You can’t ever simulate pushing another guy who’s 300 pounds,” Ngakoue said. “You can train as much as you want, but you can’t simulate that.”
Nor can Ngakoue simulate practicing against a Colts offense that did not allow a sack during quarterback Philip Rivers’ 47 dropbacks in their Week 1 loss in Jacksonville.
But Colts coach Frank Reich is not overlooking Ngakoue, who has made some memorable plays in eight games vs. Indianapolis — 6.5 sacks, six tackles for losses, three forced fumbles and an interception.
As Ngakoue shares tips with teammates about Colts linemen, he has plans for left tackle Anthony Castonzo when he aligns on that side.
“We know each other very well as far as playing against each other,” Ngakoue said. “I intend to use a lot of the things that he struggles with against him.”
Reich was not upset when Jacksonville traded Ngakoue out of the AFC South. His destination, however, made it bittersweet.
“Obviously, we were happy about that,” Reich said. “And, of course, right away we see he’s going to Minnesota so we’ll see him in Week 2. We have a lot of respect for Yannick in this building. Obviously, having played against him several times, he has a relentless motor. He’s a fierce competitor.
“That was a very good pickup for the Vikings,” Reich added. “Having gone up against him, I think Viking fans can be really encouraged about that pickup.”
The open question is when, exactly, the Vikings will be able to recapture the top-flight edge tandem they enjoyed for years from pairs such as Jared Allen and Brian Robison, and Everson Griffen and Hunter. Without Hunter for at least the next two games, Ngakoue said he has confidence in his teammates and little interest in waiting.
“Right now, this defensive line and this defense needs a spark,” he said, “and I need to go make that spark this weekend.”