Yannick Ngakoue knows how uninspiring his Vikings’ debut was, and he wants to make up for it in a hurry.
The Vikings aquired the former Pro Bowl defensive end in an Aug. 31 trade with Jacksonville, and he started last Sunday’s opener against Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium. During the 43-34 loss, Ngakoue produced no tackles and one quarterback hit in 44 plays.
“I’ve still got a bad taste in my mouth, and I want to make it right this weekend,” he said Wednesday, Sept. 16.
Ngakoue hopes to bounce back in Game 2 with his new team on Sunday at Indianapolis. At least it’s an opponent he has had success against in the past. In eight games over the past four seasons with the Jaguars, Ngakoue had 6 1/2 sacks and 15 quarterback hits against the AFC South rival.
It was that type of production the Vikings were hoping to see when they agreed to send a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round selection to the Jaguars for Ngakoue, who has a one-year, $12 million contract.
Ngakoue started at left defensive end against the Packers in place of Danielle Hunter, who was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 9 and must miss at least the first three games of the season. He rotated with Jalyn Holmes throughout the game.
“Just getting the rust off,” said Ngakoue, who held out of Jacksonville’s training camp while hoping to be traded. “It feels great coming into (the season) for a guy who just did four practices (with the Vikings), But at the same time, I feel like I should have made a bigger impact of helping the D-line out, just forcing more pressures on the quarterback.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Vikings defensive ends had just three pressures on Aaron Rodgers, who picked apart their young cornerbacks. Rodgers completed 32 of 44 passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns, and the Packers rolled up 522 yards overall.
The Vikings gave up the most points and the second-most number of yards in Mike Zimmer’s seven seasons as head coach. They allowed the most points in an opener in the franchise’s 60-year history
“Right now, this defensive line and this defense needs a spark, and I need to go make that spark this weekend,” Ngakoue said.
Zimmer obviously hopes that will be the case at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It was tough on (Ngakoue) coming in that late and trying to get all the techniques and everything we’re trying to get done, done,” Zimmer said. “So, I’m sure as the season progresses, he’ll continue to understand things more.”
With a game under his belt, Ngakoue said he’s “more comfortable” with the defense but that it takes time to get back into game mode. With the Jaguars not reaching the playoffs last season, then on-field spring drills getting called off because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ngakoue’s initial practice with the Vikings on Sept. 3 was the first time he put on pads since a Dec. 29, 2019 game against the Colts.
“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.”
After going against a future hall of fame quarterback in Rodgers, the Vikings will run into another Sunday in Philip Rivers, in his first year with the Colts after 16 with the Chargers. Indianapolis coach Frank Reich figures Zimmer will come up with something to try to pressure Rivers with Hunter out.
“It’s definitely a big loss, and Coach Zimmer has done a great job of getting pressure with four (defensive linemen), but he’s also very well know for exotic blitz schemes,” Reich said.
In his previous games against the Colts, Ngakoue provided them with plenty to worry about. He also forced three fumbles and came up with one of his two career interceptions.
“I’m not worried about the things that I’ve done in the past against them because the things in the past don’t matter,” Ngakoue said. “It’s all about the now.”