As the Vikings face Drew Brees for the third time in 13 months, one of their primary challenges against the future Hall of Famer is the same as it always is: Trying to take down a quarterback whose quick release and pocket presence routinely lead to him being among the league’s hardest quarterbacks to sack.
The Vikings could get some help with that effort on Sunday night, in the form of Everson Griffen. Sources have said the Vikings’ plan going into the week was for Griffen to play against the Saints, assuming all went well in his return to the team after coming back from treatment for mental health issues.
The team added Griffen to its injury report on Thursday, citing non-injury related reasons and listing him as a full participant in practice on Thursday and Friday. The fact Griffen is on the injury report means the Vikings will have to officially disclose his chances of playing on Friday, though the team could list him as questionable to retain some wiggle room before Sunday night’s game.
Griffen was able to work out and practice some football-specific drills during his treatment. If he plays, it’s possible the Vikings could work him in slowly, given how well Danielle Hunter has played and how capably Stephen Weatherly has performed in Griffen’s absence. In any case, the task of getting to Brees won’t be an easy one to accomplish.
The quarterback has only been sacked 295 times in 196 career starts with the Saints, and has been taken down just nine times in six games this season. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints’ offensive line has allowed the smallest percentage of pressure in the league this season, letting defenders get near the quarterback on just 17.6 percent of his dropbacks.
“When you’re as good as he is, there’s not [just] one thing [he does well],” Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “If there’s one thing, he wouldn’t be the Hall of Famer he is. I mean, he doesn’t take sacks. He protects the football. He throws for a throw a lot of yards, a lot of touchdowns. He’s good on third down. He’s stayed healthy, he’s had durability. That’s why he’s Drew Brees — it’s not just one thing.”
The Vikings rank 14th in the league in pressure rate this season, according to Football Outsiders, and they’ll obviously have a chance to improve upon those numbers as they work a three-time Pro Bowler back into their defense.
No matter what the Vikings have to throw at Brees on Sunday night, however, he’s continued to prove he’s as tough a quarterback to pressure as there is in the NFL.
“He’s moving well in the pocket,” coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “I was watching tape today and I thought, ‘How old is this guy? I thought he was getting old.’ He moves well in the pocket. He’s not really a runner, but he scrambles and usually to find guys open and he knows where to go with the football, he’s extremely accurate. They’ve got a great scheme, all kinds of things.”