With the emphasis on throwing the ball, elite pass rushers are a valuable commodity in today’s NFL. No matter how a team acquires these talented players or how long they take to develop, any team is pleased when they have one on their team. Brian Filipiak shows us an example of such a player in Minnesota Vikings Everson Griffen.
After four years as a backup and rotational player, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen started 16 games and established himself as one of the NFL’s better pass rushers last season. With three sacks through three games in 2015, the former USC Trojan has continued to build upon his breakout campaign from a year ago. In Week 3 against the San Diego Chargers, the 27-year-old Griffen put on a clinic from the defensive end position.
Finishing the game with six tackles (4 solo, 2 assists, 1 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks, Griffen dominated off the edge and consistently compressed the pocket. Out of 33 pass rush attempts, Griffen tallied, by our count, six hits on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on top of ten pressures/hurries. To that, the defensive end added a pass deflection on an attempted wide receiver screen and a pressure on Rivers into an inaccurate throw for an interception returned for a TD late in the game.
You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss
Squaring off against San Diego left tackle King Dunlap throughout most of the game, Griffen used speed, power, and a little finesse to overwhelm the eight-year veteran.
One key characteristic that often separates a premier pass rusher from a good pass rusher is, beyond the ability to vary moves, the ability to recognize and react to the technique of the blocker. In the following sequence, Griffen demonstrates not only his versatility as a pass rusher, but also a strong understanding of how to take advantage of over-corrections by his opposition.
Midway through the second quarter on a 3rd and 7, Griffen (#97) powers through Dunlap (#77) using a speed bull rush from a 9 technique alignment:
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Griffen fires off the line with an initial step toward Dunlap before widening out on his second step. The defensive end quickly pivots back toward the left tackle on his third and fourth steps, completing his transition from a wide-angle speed rush to a bull rush. Dunlap lunges early for Griffen, losing leverage on his punch and allowing the defender into his chest. Griffen attacks Dunlap’s outside shoulder with good hand and helmet placement and gains insurmountable leverage by rolling his hips, driving his legs and lifting his hands through the blocker. The defender drives his target into the back of the QB before disengaging toward the inside to deliver a hit on the passer and force an incompletion.
On a 1st and 10 in the next defensive series later in the second quarter, Griffen – again lined up as a 9 technique – employs a different mode of attack against Dunlap with a spin move:
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Facing a steady diet of speed and bull rushes up until this point, Dunlap overcommits to Griffen’s perimeter approach into the backfield. The left tackle reacts to Griffen’s one-hand punch with an off-balance lunge, slowing and tangling his feet in the process. With Dunlap protecting against the outside rush or power-based attack, Griffen – perhaps anticipating this even before the snap – counters the offensive lineman’s movements with a spin move back to the inside. After displaying good footwork with no wasted steps on the spin, Griffen finishes with a club to the back of Dunlap, using the momentum to spring toward Rivers for the sack.
While Griffen’s combination of speed and power was the primary factor on the above plays, his ability to identify a weakness in his opponent’s technique and capitalize on it is the mental part of pass rushing that can easily go unnoticed.
Griffen, who replaced one of the greatest sack-masters of all-time in defensive end Jared Allen, has accumulated 15 of his 32.5 career sacks over his last 19 games. The six-year veteran may never reach the gaudy sack totals of his predecessor, but, with each passing week, Griffen is quickly emerging as one of the league’s most disruptive and game-changing edge rushers.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.