Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen is off to a fast start, but his performance is teaching us an even more important lesson. It's one that transcends any football accolades.
by: Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL)
For a large portion of the 2018 season, the Vikings' defense was missing its heartbeat. Every time Minnesota takes the field, No. 97's energy is felt by everyone around him. The laugh, energy and competitive fire of Everson Griffen, keeps the defense ticking.
Almost every week, Griffen will use a spin move, turn the corner and destroy an opposing quarterback. Seconds later, his infamous "Sack Daddy" dance follows. Griffen will flex his biceps, celebrate and quickly get back to business.
During his ten seasons in Minnesota, Everson Griffen has become a key foundational player. When the veteran defensive end is 100 percent healthy, the entire scheme changes.
In 2018, Griffen left the team to address his personal health. He missed five games and continued to fight back. While away from the team, Griffen spent time investing in himself and his family. The Vikings' organization supported him every step of the way.
During his absence, Minnesota's defense had to adapt. On the field, Griffen's disruptive presence requires offensive coordinators to account for him every week. His nuanced pass rushing moves and explosiveness are tough for teams to scheme against.
With two premier defensive ends rushing the quarterback, opponents face a big challenge. It's hard to provide extra protection when the interior features top nose tackle Linval Joseph. If an offensive coordinator schemes to take away defensive end Everson Griffen or Danielle Hunter, another player will be receiving a favorable matchup. The overall speed and energy of the defense is noticeable when Griffen is on the field. He certainly possesses phenomenal athletic traits and fits the scheme perfect. However, his leadership skills are equally important. Griffen has the natural ability to rally his teammates and elevate the play of everyone around him.
This year, Griffen has already posted two sacks, six quarterback hits and a whopping 19 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Defensive end Danielle Hunter has already added 20 additional quarterback pressures of his own.
When firing up the All-22 of Minnesota's first three games, nobody jumps out more than Griffen. Whether it's a spin move, bull-rush, speed rush, or a dip and bend, Griffen is getting to the quarterback and causing trouble. There are countess situations where Griffen is chipped by a linebacker or running back, but still creates pressure. In order to adequately slow Griffen, offensive coordinators have to be creative. When this happens, Mike Zimmer can tweak his scheme and exploit matchups.
Everson Griffen is the heartbeat of the #Vikings defense. When he’s playing at a high level, it changes everything. Through three weeks, he has impacted so many plays. Griffen commands a ton of attention and scheming. It’s great to see him back. I pulled some of his best rushes: pic.twitter.com/SdXqKRpc9S— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) September 26, 2019
With the type of pass rush the Vikings feature, it's so important to stop the run in early downs. When they do this, Zimmer can dial up different pressure packages or coverage looks. Prior to the Vikings' 34-14 win over the Raiders, Oakland head coach Jon Gruden mentioned the impact of Griffen in the Vikings' defense.
“They get these pass rushers a lot of at-bats, and they can rip it, man. I mean, Everson Griffen is back,” Gruden said during his weekly press conference. “Whatever anybody has said about Griffen in the past or whatever he went through last year, I don’t know, but he is playing really well. And Danielle Hunter’s one of the best unknown defensive ends in the league. I don’t know why he doesn’t get more credibility."
The Vikings' defense is built upon rushing the passer and creating disruptions. Minnesota has done a fantastic job of signing, drafting and developing defensive linemen. The coaching duo of Andre Patterson and Rob Rodriquez elevate talent at an extremely high rate. Patterson is one of the top position coaches in the NFL and has maximized the traits of every player he's worked with.
When Patterson arrived, Griffen was primarily a rotational pass rusher and special teams contributor. Within a year, the former fourth-round pick was being discussed as one of the league's elite pass rushers. Since Mike Zimmer and his staff joined the Vikings in 2014, Griffen has tallied 51 sacks.
The continuity of Minnesota's defense has been a big reason why. Every starter on Minnesota's defense has at least three years of experience in the system. It's helped players like Griffen make necessary in-game adjustments. Sometimes it's a simple hand signal or pre-snap movement, that changes the entire outcome of a play. The continuity has allowed players to know each other responsibilities and tendencies. They understand how certain teams are attacking them and quickly make adaptations.
In 2017, Griffen was an All-Pro and posted 13 sacks. The defense sat atop nearly every key defensive category, including scoring, yards and opponent third-down conversion percentage. When Minnesota's top pass-rusher is healthy and thriving, the entire defensive scheme changes.
Last year, through all of the personal battles Everson Griffen faced, the Vikings kept supporting him. He had all of the resources necessary to take care of himself. This offseason, Griffen restructured his contract and provided the Vikings with roughly $4 million in cap relief. The new contract included the option to void his deal from 2020-2022. However, he must post six-plus sacks and be on the field for more than 56% of Minnesota's defensive snaps, according to Spotrac. Right now, Griffen is on pace to achieve these marks and could hit free agency at 32 years old.
This week, when the Vikings travel to Chicago, they will need their pass rush to take over. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can escape with his legs, which makes edge contain extra important. If Minnesota can pressure the pocket and create takeaways, the offense will be set up with short fields. In addition to creating pressure and takeaways, the Vikings need to wrap up Chicago running back David Montgomery. The rookie does a fantastic job of creating yards after contact and keeps his feet moving through defenders. In order to pick up an important divisional win, Minnesota has to create a key takeaway. This is going to be a defensive battle and the outcome is dependent upon which unit makes a big play.
Like always, the Vikings will be relying upon No. 97 to elevate the play of everyone around him.
The return of Everson Griffen certainly changes the entire Minnesota defense, but it also speaks to a more important topic. Every day, Griffen is teaching us an important lesson about life.
By seeking out support and resources, he has shown it is possible to overcome any personal obstacles you are facing.
No football game or performance can possibly match that.