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Friday, October 12, 2012
Everson Griffen and the Vikings' DL rotation

By Kevin Seifert

Chad Greenway was discussing the Minnesota Vikings' defensive resurgence when he nodded toward the team's deep group of defensive linemen.

"The rotation that everyone was complaining about might actually be working," Greenway said with a laugh. "I don't think they'll admit it over there, but you've got guys that come in and use so much talent and energy … guys that can get to the quarterback. It isn't pretty for [opponents]."

New defensive coordinator Alan Williams caused a mild stir in training camp when he -- gasp! -- suggested that it might not make sense for a defensive lineman to play 1,000 snaps over the course of a season. In 2011, as we've discussed, defensive end Jared Allen played 1,004 snaps, the most of any player at his position in the NFL, while fellow starter Brian Robison was not far behind at 899 snaps. In all, Allen played 94 percent of the Vikings' snaps and Robison was in for 84 percent.

Allen, for one, made clear he did not like the idea of coming off the field this season. A review of playing time for Vikings defensive linemen through the first five games reveals only one significant change, and it involves neither Allen nor Robison.

As the chart shows, the Vikings are using seven defensive linemen as part of a regular rotation, much as they did last season. Both Allen and Robison have played 90 percent of the Vikings' snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Some of the 34 plays Allen has missed can be attributed to a neck injury he suffered in a Week 3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

The primary change: Williams has found a way to double the snaps for play-making defensive end/tackle/linebacker Everson Griffen. According to PFF, Griffen has played 98 snaps as a defensive tackle, 69 as a defensive end and 15 as a linebacker. In those appearances, Griffen has three sacks, eight quarterback hits and a fumble recovery.

Griffen's time as an interior pass-rusher has indirectly allowed the Vikings to provide more rest for defensive tackle Kevin Williams, 32, who last season played in 79 percent of the Vikings' total snaps despite missing two games because of an NFL suspension.

I started researching this post before learning that Griffen left the team to mourn the death of his mother. As of this posting, it's not clear when Griffen will return or whether he will play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. But on this sad occasion, it's worth noting he has been a central figure in a revived performance from this group.