Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson was one of the most vocal supporters of defensive end Everson Griffen while he was away for the team for five weeks seeking treatment for his mental health.
Griffen has become a star while working with Patterson, reaching the Pro Bowl from 2015-2017 and tying for the fourth-highest sack total in the NFL (13) last season.
But Patterson said all along he was less concerned with Griffen’s ability to play football than his health and happiness, which Griffen says has improved since his return to the team in Week 8 against the Saints.
Against the Packers on Sunday, Griffen recorded a sack against Aaron Rodgers. Patterson said he is starting to see Griffen play at the high level he saw in years past.
“He has his timing back, he’s got his groove back, and he looked like the old Griff,” Patterson said.
When asked if it is taking longer than expected for Griffen to return to form, Patterson said no.
“It didn’t take him a while to get going,” Patterson said. “Playing defensive line is not like riding a bike. A lot of it is timing-based, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. You have to get your timing back again, and that is all it was for him — to get a number of reps to get his timing back.”
The Vikings will have one of their most difficult games on the schedule Sunday against the Patriots, who are the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture with an 8-3 record. New England is tied for eighth in the NFL in total offense (388.2 yards per game) and tied for seventh in scoring (27.9 points per game).
This Vikings defense has quietly started to look more like the kind of dominant unit people are used to seeing from a Mike Zimmer-led squad. Since a Week 5 loss in Los Angeles to the Rams, the defense ranks third in the NFL and first in the NFC in total defense, allowing 276.5 yards per game.
Has Patterson noticed a difference in the defense since the Rams game?
“I think the No. 1 thing is the guys just stuck with the routine and the plan and nobody panicked,” the 15-year NFL coaching veteran said. “We just worked on getting better. Not worrying about where we sat at that moment. The NFL season is a marathon and you can’t get caught up on where you sit today.
“You have to continue to drive to get better and it’s where you stand at the end that is the most important thing, not where you’re sitting right now. I think the guys bought into that, continued to work hard, continued to try to get better every day and listen in the meeting rooms. When you do that, you improve and play better.”
Hall of Fame QBs
Patterson said that when it comes to facing Tom Brady and the Patriots on the road Sunday, he has some history to draw on from his days when he was with the Broncos (2005-2006) and Browns (2003-04).
When Patterson was with Denver, the Broncos defeated the Patriots all three times they squared off, including a 27-13 victory during the 2005 playoffs.
“We had success against them but [Brady] is the best quarterback of all time,” Patterson said. “He is a tremendous leader. He gets the ball out of his hands quick. He knows where to go with the ball.
“We played a guy that is going to get a [Hall of Fame] gold jacket last Sunday [Rodgers]. We’re going to play a guy that is going to get a gold jacket this Sunday. And we have a guy [the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson] that is probably going to have a gold jacket that we play [Dec. 10]. It’s going to be three in a row.”
Griffen feeling good
Griffen said he was happy to be back playing football, but even happier to be back in the locker room.
“I missed playing, but I missed my teammates and that team camaraderie a lot, too,” he said.
Has he found it difficult getting back into the rhythm of the NFL?
“It hasn’t been that tough,” Griffen said. “I’m just getting my feet back underneath me and getting back in the flow of things, and I feel good.”
When asked about his relationship with his teammates and coaching staff, Griffen said they all played a big part in helping him return.
“Andre Patterson, you know we have a great relationship, Coach Zimmer, like I said everybody,” Griffen said. “Everybody has been a big impact in my life. Patterson helped me become a better pass rusher and a better man off the field.”
When it comes to facing Brady, Griffen has gone against him twice in his career. He has two tackles and zero sacks in two Vikings losses to the Patriots, 28-18 on the road in 2010 and 30-7 at home in 2014.
“He is the GOAT [greatest of all time],” Griffen said. “You have to give respect where respect is due. He’s the GOAT. Five Super Bowl rings, playoffs every year, he is a large part of their team winning. He is the GOAT. We have to go out there and play one of our best games to beat the best.”
Is he excited for his first trip to Foxborough since 2010?
“It’s going to be fun playing there again,” he said. “I haven’t played there in nine or eight years. It’s going to be an exciting time to play there.”
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