Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) sacked Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) in the second quater at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday September 24,2017 in Minneapolis ,MN. ] JERRY HOLT firstname.lastname@example.org Jerry Holt
Everson Griffen has been the Vikings’ most productive pass rusher through their first three games, and the way the team is using him suggests he’s still their premier option. He’s tied for third in the NFL with four sacks so far this season, and he’s mostly lined up as their right defensive end, where he’s spent the past three seasons attacking quarterbacks from their blind side.
But Griffen’s fourth sack of the season on Sunday came in a role we could see the 29-year-old play a little more often this season. He rushed from the left end spot in the Vikings’ nickel package, getting a free run at Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston when Tampa Bay shifted its protection away from Griffen before Winston’s bootleg off play action. It was one of three times on Sunday and one of five this season he rushed from the left end spot, according to Pro Football Focus. The Vikings, though, have been preparing Griffen to play there more as Danielle Hunter grows into a starting role, and Griffen — who started his career playing multiple spots as a rotational pass rusher — used part of his summer training for the shift in his role.
While I was still at ESPN, I spent two days watching Griffen work with Shawn Myszka, the movement coach who’s worked with the Vikings defensive end for several seasons. Each drill Myszka had for Griffen — designed to hone the efficiency of his movement and his ability to carve sharper angles off the edge of the line — was set up for Griffen to rush from either the right or left side, after the Vikings had told Griffen to get ready to play both sides. And while Griffen has been on the right side of the Vikings’ formation for 35 of his 38 rushes, his sack on Sunday came from his new (old) spot.
The ability for both Griffen and Hunter to rush from either side is a luxury that makes the Vikings’ defensive front particularly difficult to handle (and though Hunter doesn’t have a sack yet this season, he has seven quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus). Griffen might be benefitting to some degree from attention on Hunter, but he’s also been at the top of his game early this year. He’ll likely get a chance throughout the season to make plays on both sides of the line.