Everson Griffen swears he wasn’t offsides. He might be right.
Based on the speed with which the Vikings played during Sunday’s 31-13 win over visiting Houston, it’s entirely possible that Griffen was faster than the naked eye belonging to line judge Sarah Thomas.
“She looked at me and she knew she was wrong,” Griffen said. “But we’re 5-0.”
The league’s only undefeated team played at a speed that made the Texans look like a Division I-AA team rather than an NFL division leader. Thomas made Griffen surrender the unabated 7-yard strip sack on fourth-and-1, but it didn’t matter since the Vikings were ahead 24-3 and the Texans had yet to record a first down that wasn’t by penalty.
“I definitely felt we were the faster team today,” said receiver Jarius Wright. “We were just one step ahead of them.”
Whether it was Adam Thielen opening the scoring by torching a cornerback and safety with 36-yard slant-and-go route; punt returner Marcus Sherels zigzagging and then exploding 79 yards for his team-record fifth touchdown return; or defenders racing each other to sack $72 million quarterback Brock Osweiler four times, the Vikings made Houston look sloooow. The only exception was what Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus did while beating left tackle T.J. Clemmings for two sacks and a facemasking penalty.
“Give credit where it’s due,” Osweiler said after the Texans were held to 214 yards while converting only one of 13 third downs. “The Vikings are a tremendous football team and very well coached. It seems like they have their schemes mastered.”
That, safety Harrison Smith said, is the key to how fast the Vikings look on game day.
“People talk about the speed of the game and all of that,” he said. “But I think when you know what your job is, you can play fast, break fast and make plays. The players go out and do it, but the coaches allow us to do it. They don’t bog us down by doing too much or having us overthinking everything.”
Offensively, a good example of team speed came on third-and-7 from the Houston 20 in the second quarter. Lined up to the left, Wright faked inside and ran toward the sideline. He was moving at full speed with cornerback Charles James struggling a step behind him.
Wright entered the game with no catches and only one game in which he was active. Yet his playmaking speed enabled Bradford to use him for an 11-yard gain to set up a field goal and a 17-0 lead.
“That play was something we saw we could hit,” Wright said. “And Sam threw the ball like he’s been throwing to me all year. I never had to break stride.”
Defensively, the Vikings’ speed made it hard for poor Osweiler to even check down to a running back who looked open. He tried that on third-and-5 in the first quarter, but middle linebacker Eric Kendricks closed remarkably fast, reached his right hand in and swatted the ball away from Lamar Miller.
“We’re a run-and-hit defense that had a good call on that play,” said Kendricks, who had a team-high two passes defensed. “When you’re prepared like we are, you have the edge in speed.”
Even the old guys look fast. Right, 33-year-old defensive end Brian (two sacks) Robison?
“I think we got guys who really understand the game,” Robison said. “We take great angles. We play with great leverage, and we do the little things right. When you do all that stuff, it makes you look faster.”
Griffen certainly looked All-Pro fast, even if he spent the first half wearing a jersey with “Griffin” misspelled on the back. Danielle Hunter outraced him to one sack. And the line judge might have robbed him of another one.
“I’m watching the ball, man,” Griffen said. “So I wasn’t offsides. I watched the ball. Right when [the center’s] hand moved, I moved.”
Either way, no one can match the Vikings’ speed through five games.