NFC North: Everson Griffen

MINNEAPOLIS -- There is another award coming for a member of the Minnesota Vikings' defense.

Two days after Anthony Barr was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defensive end Everson Griffen claimed NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for October, at the end of a four-game stretch where he has recorded six sacks, eight tackles for loss and a forced fumble. It's the first time Griffen has won the award.

We have talked plenty about the emergence of Griffen in the past week or two, but it's a point that bears repeating in light of how much the Vikings appeared to put themselves out on a limb with the five-year, $42.5 million contract they gave him in March. That deal made Griffen one of the league's highest-paid defensive ends, and was a gamble on his ability to produce consistently after four seasons of being a rotational player. So far, the deal looks like a sound investment, and though Griffen has gotten some of his sacks as a result of pressure from other members of the Vikings' defensive line -- as coach Mike Zimmer has pointed out -- he has created plenty of pressure with his quickness off the edge. He's been solid against the run and had some splash plays chasing down screens, as well, and he looks like he will be a key member of the Vikings' defensive line for years to come.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison played only 40 of the team's 60 defensive snaps on Sunday in Tampa Bay after logging at least 60 in five of the team's previous six games. Robison didn't offer much detail on Monday about what was bothering him, saying only he was dealing with some "bruises."

Now we know. Robison did not practice Wednesday and was listed on the Vikings' injury report with a gluteal injury (which might also explain why the normally forthcoming defensive end didn't want to talk much about it). Considering Robison was able to play two-thirds of the Vikings' snaps on Sunday, the injury seems unlikely to keep him off the field, but the Vikings will have to monitor Robison's health in their final game before their bye week.

Situations such as these are why it's particularly useful for the Vikings to have Corey Wootton, who had 7 1/2 sacks two years ago with the Bears and has proved to be a capable backup for both Robison and Everson Griffen. Wootton played 24 snaps on Sunday, registering three tackles, and if he's asked to take on a larger role on Sunday, the Vikings should be in good hands. Rookie Scott Crichton could also get more work this week after playing eight snaps when Wootton was hurt two weeks ago. He returned to the inactive list last Sunday.

Cornerback Jabari Price missed practice with a lingering hamstring injury and tight end Kyle Rudolph also sat out, though he continued to do some conditioning work on the side as he recovers from sports hernia surgery. Tight end Chase Ford (foot) and cornerback Josh Robinson (ankle) both appeared to be struggling with their injuries in the portion of practice open to the media, and both were limited in practice. Safety Antone Exum (ankle/shoulder) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle/knee) also were limited.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Half a season into Mike Zimmer's first year as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach, the team's defense in the midst of an impressive turnaround.

A group that allowed the most points in the NFL last season has improved to 17th overall, having allowed 173 through eight games. The Vikings fare even better in yards allowed, where they've gone from 31st to ninth, and third-down conversions, where they've improved from 30th to seventh. So far this season, the Vikings have given up a first down on just 36.5 percent of third downs, after failing to get off the field 44.2 percent of the time last year.

After sacking Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon five times on Sunday, the Vikings now have 25 sacks, which ties them with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second-most in the league (last season, they tied for 13th overall with 41 sacks). Linebacker Anthony Barr leads all rookies with three sacks, defensive tackles Tom Johnson (five sacks) and Sharrif Floyd (three) have already hit career highs, and defensive end Everson Griffen is third in the league with eight sacks. Safety Harrison Smith is tied for third in the league with three interceptions.

Zimmer has shown little interest in comparing his defense to what the Vikings did last year and has maintained he came to Minnesota with no expectations of how good the group could be. He said he typically doesn't even look at statistics for another month, when there's a larger body of work.

"Talk to me at the end of the season and I’ll tell you what I think," Zimmer said. "There’s a long way to go. I never look at defensive rankings or anything like that until at least Thanksgiving. I think by then you kind of know what you are. I hope we can get better than what we are now."

But after what the Vikings had last year -- an often toothless unit that blew five last-minute leads and couldn't stop drives when it had to -- it's striking to look at how much the group has improved this year. With so many key players (Griffen, Floyd, Linval Joseph, Barr, Xavier Rhodes, Smith) all 26 or under, there's plenty of reason for optimism about the team's defensive foundation.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It might be in part because of the quarterbacks he's facing, but Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is getting more comfortable turning up the heat on opposing quarterbacks.

Zimmer ordered 16 blitzes of Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon in the Vikings' 19-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's the most he's blitzed all season, up from 13 the week before against Buffalo and 11 against Detroit. The last three games represent three of the Vikings' four highest blitz totals of the season, and in a game controlled by their defensive front, they were effective when bringing extra pressure.

They registered two of their five sacks on blitzes, intercepted Glennon once and held him to 5.69 yards per dropback on blitzes. The Vikings also exemplified the selfless rush concept Zimmer has been preaching; Sharrif Floyd's second-quarter sack came after Glennon was flushed by Anthony Barr and Tom Johnson, and on the next play, Everson Griffen took Glennon down after Floyd's initial pressure.

"I like the way they’ve played the last three weeks," Zimmer said of the defensive line. "Again, talk to me at the end of the season and I’ll tell you what I think. There’s a long way to go. I never look at defensive rankings or anything like that until at least Thanksgiving. I think by then you kind of know what you are. I hope we can get better than what we are now."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' defense after a film review of their win over the Buccaneers:
  • Zimmer sent Barr on 11 of his 16 blitzes and unveiled some new looks to pressure Glennon. On one third-quarter blitz, both Floyd and Johnson dropped into coverage, while Barr and Smith came after the quarterback.
  • Griffen was at his most disruptive again Sunday, whether he was showing his quickness off the edge, taking an inside rush lane off the stunts with Floyd, peeling off a block to take down Robert Herron on a reverse or ripping down Doug Martin with one hand on a screen. The 26-year-old is an exponentially better fit for Zimmer's defense than a player like Jared Allen; he can move around, drop into coverage and take away the edge with his power and speed.
  • Barr talked about how he's getting more comfortable in pass coverage, and though he was trailing Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the Buccaneers' fourth-quarter touchdown and got crossed up on a throw to Bobby Rainey earlier in the fourth, he had some nice moments in zone coverage, working with Harrison Smith and either Captain Munnerlyn or Josh Robinson to take away options on the left side of the field.
  • If there's one nitpick, it's with Xavier Rhodes, who got flagged for two penalties, including an illegal contact call that was declined after Mike Evans beat him for 23 yards. We looked earlier today at the Vikings' penalties late in Sunday's game, and Rhodes is still getting in trouble at times when he carries contact too far up the field. On his illegal contact call in the third quarter, he started jamming Evans about three yards off the line of scrimmage but stayed in contact with him for nearly another 10.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Shortly after they were allowed to begin contacting free agents last March, the Minnesota Vikings placed a call to the agent for former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, to explore the possibility of reuniting him with coach Mike Zimmer in Minnesota.

Johnson wound up agreeing to a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers an hour after players were able to sign with new teams; Zimmer said in a radio interview in March that Johnson "wanted to be with me," but ultimately wanted to be closer to his hometown of Selma, Alabama. And in a conference call with Twin Cities reporters on Wednesday, Johnson said he thought about following Zimmer to Minnesota after five years with him in Cincinnati.

"Of course,” Johnson said. “I came into the league under Coach Zimmer. I learned a lot under him. He’s a great coach and a great, great guy. It was a pleasure playing under him."

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis, Everson Griffen
AP Photo/Tom GannamEverson Griffen has been productive in Mike Zimmer's scheme, collecting 7.0 sacks through the first seven games.
The Vikings, meanwhile, had agreed to a new five-year deal with Everson Griffen before the start of free agency, keeping the player that Zimmer said in March was their first choice at defensive end. It seemed difficult to imagine a scenario where the Vikings could have paid both Griffen and Johnson, and it might be a moot point now, but seven months later, the Vikings seem to have no regrets about their decision.

Griffen has seven sacks this season, which has him tied for the second-most in the league, and he matched his career high with three on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Zimmer doesn't place much value on individual sack totals; they're easy to come by, he said on Wednesday, and repeated his mantra about being more concerned with team's overall number of sacks than who gets them. But in the time he's had Griffen, Zimmer said, he's seen a player who was eager to embrace the defensive philosophy the coach brought to Minnesota.

"Since the day we walked in, he's kind of been excited about this regime defensively, how he can go from just being an athlete to being a football player," Zimmer said. "That's how I always got the impression with him. He's been very, very diligent about buying into what we're preaching. It's not just about running up the field and sacking the quarterback. It's about doing your job so other people can have success, too."

That's a philosophy Johnson knew well, and it probably took some projection on the Vikings' part to see that Griffen could work as an every-down right end in the scheme after playing in three different defensive line spots under former head coach Leslie Frazier. Johnson, of course, is playing for Frazier in Tampa, and has two sacks in four games for a 1-5 team. He's looked back on some of the advice he got from Zimmer, whom he called a "father figure," to help get him through the tough start.

"He’d say, 'Tough times don’t last, tough people do,'" Johnson said. "That was his mentality. These first six games here have been tough times down here. So tough times don’t last but tough people do. I’ve taken that with me from Cincinnati. I try to apply that not only in football but life as well.”

It's clear Zimmer and Johnson still hold each other in high regard, but the Vikings made their investment in Griffen last March. So far, Zimmer seems happy with the choice.

"It's not only the pass-rush things," Zimmer said. "It's buying into playing the run, too. I think that allows him to have success."
MINNEAPOLIS -- For 57 minutes, the Minnesota Vikings put together what would have stood up as their best defensive performance of the season, if not for what happened in the game's final three minutes. The Vikings had forced four turnovers, sacked Kyle Orton four times and held the Bills to 10 points, in a game that was one defensive stand away from a Vikings victory.

But it's what happened on that final drive that commanded most of the attention after the game, and deservedly so. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink of defeat several times on a 15-play, 80-yard march, only to give Buffalo new life on a series of coverage breakdowns.

Though the result was the same as the four games the Vikings lost on last-minute touchdowns last season, the approach wasn't. Nearly a year after defensive end Brian Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams criticized former defensive coordinator Alan Williams for being too timid in a final-drive loss to Dallas, the Vikings blitzed Orton four times on the final drive, sacking him twice on blitzes and using a number of creative fronts that bumped tackles Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson out to wide alignments.

The breakdowns at the end of the game, though, are what will stick out about an otherwise impressive performance.

"This is a 'now' business," safety Harrison Smith said. "Everything is right now; you want to win right now. That's just the world we live in. We have to (develop) as fast as possible."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' defensive performance after a film review of the 17-16 loss to the Bills:
  • Vikings coach Mike Zimmer alluded to the Vikings getting burned by their aggressiveness on the final drive, and while his blitzes worked, Josh Robinson's press coverage of Sammy Watkins on a third-and-12 didn't. Watkins, who has two inches and 12 pounds on Robinson, quickly fought off his jam and got inside for a 20-yard gain on a slant. "Poor technique," Zimmer said of the play. Robinson had inside leverage on the play but is still learning to press effectively and needed to throw off Watkins' timing on the route.
  • Floyd had what might have been his best game of the season, thanks to a game plan that moved him around the Vikings' defensive front. Floyd had a sack and two hurries, one of which came after he lined up over the left tackle and chased Orton outside the pocket. Joseph's sack on the final drive also came from a three-technique spot, and Everson Griffen's third sack came when he worked a stunt with Floyd after the Vikings showed a seven-man blitz and rushed four.
  • Linebacker Anthony Barr was targeted early and often on shallow crossing routes, but the rookie had a monster day, registering 10 tackles, ranging back to break up a pass, recovering two fumbles and rushing Orton on 11 of Zimmer's 13 blitzes. He missed several tackles and also blew up another screen pass, showing great reaction time to take down fullback Frank Summers for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter. It wasn't a complete performance for Barr, but it was an impressive one, which once again hinted at the rookie's potential to be a dominant player once he figures everything out.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Linebacker Chad Greenway was listed as questionable for the Minnesota Vikings' game on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner, speaking in Mike Zimmer's absence as the head coach was having a "minor procedue" on Friday, said Greenway will be a game-time decision on Sunday against Buffalo.

Greenway, however, said he'll play if it's at all possible. "If there's a way," he said, "I promise I'll be out there."

The linebacker has missed the Vikings' last three games with broken ribs, and he would wear some kind of protection if he's on the field Sunday. He was a full participant in practice for the third straight day on Friday and said he continues to feel better. He'd likely return to his starting weakside linebacker spot on Sunday with Gerald Hodges out because of a hamstring injury. If Greenway is unable to go, Audie Cole would be next in line.

Greenway broke three ribs on Sept. 21 against New Orleans, and the Vikings decided to hold him out for the following game against the Atlanta Falcons. "After the New Orleans game, we made the right call," he said. "It needed a few weeks, and it's progressing how everybody thought it would. To me, it's the most frustrating injury I've had, because what do you do? You sit around and wait for it to heal itself."

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is also questionable for Sunday with elbow and ankle injuries. Defensive end Corey Wootton will miss Sunday's game with a low back injury, meaning rookie Scott Crichton will likely return to the active roster after being deactivated for the last five games.

Crichton said he has been on the first field goal unit this week, and he worked at left end this week,after playing right end all season. The Vikings have used Wootton to spell both Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, and they'll likely move Crichton into that spot this weekend.

"This is the opportunity I've been waiting for," he said.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' defensive performance in a 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday must be graded on a curve, considering the Lions were without wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush, which led them to simplify their offense into a short passing game and power running game designed to keep the chains moving and force the Vikings' offense to play from behind.

But 10 days after a 42-10 shellacking at Lambeau Field, the Vikings had reason to be happy with a number of things they did on defense. After surrendering another early touchdown, they held the Lions to 10 points and 175 yards the rest of the day, limiting the Lions to just one third-down conversion for the game.

It wasn't enough to win on a day where the Vikings managed just three points and the Lions started their average drive at their own 36-yard line, but coach Mike Zimmer was right to point out some positives about the defensive performance on Monday, especially after drilling players to stay disciplined against the run.

"Defensively, I think what we went back and emphasized extremely hard, I thought we did a really good job in," Zimmer said.

Here are some other observations of the Vikings' defense after a film review of the Lions' 17-3 win:
  • Joesph
    After playing his worst game of the season against the Packers, nose tackle Linval Joseph might have been at his best Sunday against Detroit, collapsing the middle of the Lions' offensive line for much of the day and getting good push on a quarterback hit and a sack he shared with Brian Robison. Joseph admitted he was playing out of his gap a few times in Green Bay, but he got back to what he does best on Sunday: swallowing up blockers and holding firm in the middle of the line.
  • It was an easier day for the Vikings' cornerbacks because of how rarely Matthew Stafford went downfield (he was 1-for-10 on throws at least 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information), but Josh Robinson bounced back from a bad night in Green Bay and continued to show improvement at corner. He had good inside leverage on one of the few times he was tested downfield, on a sideline throw to Corey Fuller late in the second quarter, and gave Stafford no place to fit the ball (though Fuller motioned that Robinson grabbed his jersey after the play).
  • Zimmer brought extra pressure on just 14 of Stafford's 41 dropbacks, and the Vikings did a good job getting to Stafford with just four pass rushers; three of their four sacks came with standard pressure. Tom Johnson had another strong day in the Vikings' nickel package, bull rushing Dominic Raiola on a third-quarter sack of Stafford, drilling the quarterback on a pressure in the second quarter and nearly taking him down again on one of the stunts he ran with a defensive end (Everson Griffen in this case).
  • The Vikings' first defensive drive set the tone for the day, and we need to spend a little time on what went wrong. Zimmer wasn't happy with the Vikings' pursuit of Theo Riddick's 41-yard screen -- "We didn't get off blocks; we had one guy loaf," he said -- and Joique Bell shed a pair of arm tackles from Anthony Barr and Jasper Brinkley on a 10-yard run on the Lions' third play of the game. Stafford's touchdown to Riddick came when Gerald Hodges (who had another good day in run support) appeared to lose him in coverage; Hodges and Barr also both jumped tight end Brandon Pettigrew on the screen, leaving room for Riddick on the right side.

Patriots vs. Vikings preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
Update: The Vikings have deactivated Adrian Peterson for Sunday’s game following Friday's indictment by a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off their biggest road win in five seasons, while the New England Patriots are trying to avoid an 0-2 start after a 13-point defeat on the road last week. Just like everyone predicted, right?

In a matchup that pits Patriots coach Bill Belichick against a couple of his old foes from the AFC -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- the Vikings will try to build on their surprising start in their home opener at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Zimmer's game plan in Cincinnati last year forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into his worst game of the season, and Zimmer will hope to recreate the performance with a Vikings defense that isn't as experienced as what he had with the Bengals.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss this week's matchup.

Ben Goessling: Mike, the Vikings sacked Rams quarterbacks five times Sunday. After a pretty poor week for the Patriots' offensive line against the Dolphins -- a team whose defensive coordinator is a disciple of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer -- do you think protecting Brady is going to be a lingering issue this week?

Mike Reiss: Yes, Ben, there is no doubt about that. One thing I believe should help the Patriots is that while the Vikings' defensive line is solid, I don't believe it is at the same level as Miami's. Specifically, the Patriots won't be seeing the same type of speed rush from Cameron Wake off the defensive left side, which they just couldn't handle. There's only a few like Wake in the NFL. The Patriots are still figuring out their best combination up front, and that will be one of the most closely watched storylines from a New England perspective. One thing I'm sure Patriots followers would be interested to hear is how Matt Cassel, the New England backup from 2005-08, is performing.

Goessling: So far, Cassel has been solid, though he didn't have to take many chances in the Vikings' win against the Rams last week. He only attempted three passes of more than 10 yards, and he was able to hit a number of screen passes to running backs, receivers and even tight end Rhett Ellison. But Cassel hit Greg Jennings on a nice post play and threw a couple of touchdown passes off play-action. The hope is Cassel can be solid enough to keep the Vikings relevant and give them more time to develop Teddy Bridgewater; ultimately, he is the future of this team, but for now, Cassel is buying the Vikings time before they turn things over to Bridgewater. And if they're able to win enough games with Cassel, who knows? He could turn out to be the starter all season.

Belichick will get to face one of his old foes from the AFC in Turner on Sunday; how have the Patriots typically matched up against Turner teams, and how do you expect their defense will handle the Vikings on Sunday, after the Vikings showed off a number of weapons last week against the Rams?

Reiss: When the Patriots have faced a Turner-coordinated offense, Belichick has touched on the vertical nature of the passing game. He also said earlier this week that, "You have to be able to stop the running game and stop '12 personnel' [1 back, 2 tight ends]." The Patriots' biggest issues in the opener were poor fits in the run game (191 yards allowed). I wouldn't be surprised if we see Darrelle Revis shadow Cordarrelle Patterson after Revis almost exclusively played the left side in the opener.

In last year's draft, the Patriots traded the No. 29 pick to Minnesota for Patterson and received second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in return. The Patriots turned those picks into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce and used the seventh to trade for running back LeGarrette Blount (now in Pittsburgh). One year later, how do you assess that deal from a Minnesota perspective?

Goessling: I can't imagine the Vikings have any regrets about it. As much as they could have used some of those picks to address their defensive depth issues, they've got a budding star in Patterson. He's not only filled the role vacated by Percy Harvin in the Vikings' offense, he's done it without any of the questions surrounding Harvin's durability and temperament. Patterson isn't quite as strong or shifty, but he's taller, a more natural outside receiver and his ability to hit holes is as good as you'll find anywhere. He's already become a focal point in the Vikings' offense, and I imagine that will only continue. The Vikings use him in enough different ways that I think it would be hard to completely shut him down with Revis, though I'm sure Belichick will come up with something to try and fence him in.

Speaking of defensive game plans, the Bengals' defense under Zimmer had a good one to frustrate Brady last season, and Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyne (a Zimmer disciple) had success against the Patriots last week, of course. We've talked a little bit about the pass rush already, but what else did Zimmer dial up in that game to force Brady into one of his worst days of the season, and do you think he can do it again this weekend?

Reiss: The main things I remember about Zimmer's plan last season was the ability to hurry Brady with the standard four rushers early (Geno Atkins was a beast inside), and then bringing out the different blitz packages on third down and more obvious passing situations. One thing, in particular, is the double A-gap blitz right up the middle. Even if you don't bring those extra two rushers on a blitz, by showing the look, it forces the offensive line to communicate and make sure they are all seeing the same thing in terms of who is coming, who isn't and who to block. The Patriots' offensive line crumbled in the third quarter against the Dolphins last week, and I'd imagine the Vikings watched that tape and are salivating at the possibilities of frustrating Brady. At the same time, I think the Patriots are better than they showed, and we could see some personnel changes in the middle with rookie center Bryan Stork in the mix.

Defensively for the Vikings, tell us more about where and how they put stress on the opposition.

Goessling: You touched on it a little bit: The big key to it is still the creativity Zimmer shows in his blitz packages. He doesn't bring extra pressure all that often, in the grand scheme of things (he only blitzed eight times last week), but he'll show enough blitz looks, and send pass-rushers from enough different spots, that he keeps you on your toes. You'll often see him show a seven- or eight-man front, only to have several players drop back into coverage. The problem is guessing which players it will be; the Vikings have some flexibility with their personnel, like linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings' secondary depth still concerns me, and we'll see whether Brady can exploit it this week, but this Vikings' defense won't be as big of a pushover as last season's unit was.

MINNEAPOLIS -- An examination of what the Minnesota Vikings must do after their win over the St. Louis Rams:

If there was one major issue emerging from the Vikings' 34-6 victory on Sunday, it was the team's share of penalties on a day when referee Ed Hochuli's crew tossed plenty of flags. The Vikings were penalized seven times for 60 yards, but the Rams gave away more than twice as many yards, committing 13 penalties for 121 yards in the loss.

The Rams' carelessness ultimately helped Minnesota win the game, but Vikings players and coach Mike Zimmer cited their own penalties as one of the major issues in need of fixing this week.

"In the first half, I felt we kind of self-destructed a little bit," Zimmer said. "We had too many penalties."

The Vikings had a 13-0 lead at halftime, after Josh Robinson's second-quarter interception helped set up a Matt Cassel touchdown pass to Greg Jennings, but in general, Zimmer thought his players were a little too amped up in the first two quarters of the season. He told them at halftime to calm down, and though it's worth noting the Rams declined three penalties in the second half, a holding call on Phil Loadholt was the only Vikings penalty the Rams accepted.

Zimmer has said several times he coaches Vikings defenders to avoid penalties, in light of the league's increased focus on contact with receivers. The Vikings had two illegal contact calls (on Jasper Brinkley and Jabari Price) declined, as well as a pass interference penalty on Robert Blanton, but in different circumstances, those penalties could have had costlier consequences. The penalties alone on Sunday were enough to keep defensive end Everson Griffen from calling the Vikings' defensive effort a dominating performance.

“It wasn’t dominating. We can play a lot better -- penalties, penalties can kill a team," Griffen said. "But we allowed ourselves to stay in the moment and execute our assignments, [and] still win the game.”
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will officially be without three players for their season opener on Sunday in St. Louis: linebacker Brandon Watts (knee), linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) and fullback Zach Line (ankle).

Defensive end Everson Griffen, who missed his second day of practice with an illness on Friday, said he'll play on Sunday, and that he'll start the game at right end. Tackle Mike Harris, who joined the team after the Vikings claimed him off waivers last Sunday, is questionable with a shoulder injury.

Wide receiver Rodney Smith (neck) and cornerback Jabari Price (shoulder) were full participants on Friday, and both are probable to play.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As elementary as the Minnesota Vikings' game plans have been for their first two preseason contests, the Vikings' wins over the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals have already seen coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards unveil a handful of different defensive looks.

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer
AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt"Once I feel like we have the fundamentals down and the techniques down, then you can worry about tricking somebody else or disguising," Mike Zimmer said.
Anthony Barr has played linebacker, rushed the quarterback standing up and moved into a defensive end position on passing downs. Everson Griffen has played left end and right end. Brian Robison has rushed from the left end spot and moved inside. The Vikings have dropped several different linemen into coverage, they've shown a three-safety package in their nickel defense and they've been unafraid to blitz safeties such as Harrison Smith.

There's probably more coming from a coach who sent a defensive back on a blitz 75 times while he was the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator last seasom, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That figure was the 10th highest in the league, and it was nearly double the number of times (41) the Vikings blitzed a cornerback or safety. But as effective -- and as entertaining -- as different looks can be, Zimmer says he won't overdo it to the point he runs the risk of diluting a player's focus.

"It's a little bit of, 'What can the guy do and still be effective?'" Zimmer said. "Once I feel like we have the fundamentals down and the techniques down, then you can worry about tricking somebody else or disguising. You don't always have guys like Griffen, Barr, Robison that can do a number of different things. Those three guys can stand up and drop, play outside linebacker and rush."

Zimmer said the Vikings are getting to the point at which their understanding of defensive fundamentals is strong enough that he can mix in different ideas, but he still knows there's a danger in mixing in too many different ideas. To borrow a musical metaphor, it's no good for a drummer to show off all sorts of complicated fills and complex beats if he can't keep the rest of the band in the groove.

"You don't want to hurt other guys by trying to fit some other guy in something he's not comfortable with," Zimmer said. "There's a cause and effect with everybody."

The Vikings will have plenty of chances to get creative with their personnel this season, simply because of how many versatile players they have in their front seven, but Zimmer's defense is built on sound fundamentals and good communication across the defense more than it is energized by anything exotic. If the Vikings can't handle the basics this season, we probably won't see as much variety in Zimmer's defensive looks.

Vikings camp report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • Coach Mike Zimmer's fiery side was on display late in the afternoon practice after defensive end Everson Griffen jumped offsides in an 11-on-11 drill. Zimmer immediately called for the entire team to drop and begin pushups on the field. (I lost count but I believe it was 10.) "It was spur of the moment," Zimmer said. "The period before, a couple guys jumped offsides, and I got tired of it."
  • Veteran safety Chris Crocker, signed Monday, got some work with the first team Tuesday. Zimmer acknowledged he has long planned to bring in Crocker, who played for him during most of the past seven seasons, and envisions him as a facilitator of the defensive system to younger players. "I thought it would be good for him to be around," Zimmer said. "We've got a pretty young secondary, a pretty young defense. He knows the system well. I thought he would be in that defensive back room to help these guys understand exactly what I'm looking for. He's been with me for a little while."
  • That Crocker got work with the first team speaks to the Vikings' situation at safety opposite of Harrison Smith. Robert Blanton, who had been working with the starters, is trying to come back from a hamstring injury. Zimmer said Blanton's timetable appears more optimistic than once believed, but said: "Blanton's got to get back out here. He was looking good early. Now he had to get back out here and show what he can do."
  • The Vikings are beginning to prepare for Friday's preseason opener at TCF Bank Stadium. Zimmer planed to speak with to the team Tuesday night about the value of a home-field advantage. Temporary digs have not usually been kind to NFL teams, but Zimmer said: "Maybe we can be the first." Meanwhile, Zimmer indicated that tailback Adrian Peterson won't play. That sounds like a good plan. Peterson is healthy and doesn't need preseason work, whether or not the Vikings are installing a new offense.
  • The Vikings are scheduled for a walk-thru practice Wednesday morning from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. local time. Their primary practice will go from 3 p.m. to 5:10 p.m. local time.

Camp preview: Minnesota Vikings

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Ben Goessling examines the three biggest issues facing the Minnesota Vikings heading into training camp.

Quarterback: This will be the biggest storyline surrounding the Vikings in training camp until head coach Mike Zimmer settles on a starter. Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have pledged to hold an open competition during training camp, though the race really figures to boil down to two quarterbacks: veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater, who both got a significantly larger share of snaps during the Vikings' OTAs and minicamp than Christian Ponder. Bridgewater was impressive in his first work with the Vikings this spring, but unless he's clearly the best of the Vikings' quarterbacks in training camp, Cassel figures to start the season as the quarterback. The Vikings re-signed Cassel so they wouldn't have to rush a young quarterback, and in the process, they created a situation in which they can afford to be patient with Bridgewater. If he's the best man for the job, it doesn't seem likely Zimmer will wait to play him. But if he's not fully ready by the end of camp, there's nothing forcing the Vikings to play the rookie.

Remaking the defense: The Vikings committed $20 million in guaranteed money to defensive end Everson Griffen and guaranteed another $16.95 million to secure the services of defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. But until training camp, when players put on pads, cornerbacks play press coverage and there's actual contact at the line of scrimmage, it's difficult to assess where the Vikings are in their effort to rebuild a defense that allowed more points than any other unit in the league last season. Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr only had a minicamp with the team as classes at UCLA kept him out of the team's OTAs, but he'll be a prominent figure as the Vikings plan to use the 6-foot-5 linebacker in several different ways. With questions at linebacker (does Jasper Brinkley start in the middle?) and in the secondary (is Josh Robinson good enough to get significant playing time at cornerback?), the Vikings will have plenty to figure out on defense.

New roles for Peterson, Patterson: At age 29, Adrian Peterson is intent on cruising along with his career at a time when most running backs his age start to break down. In Norv Turner, Peterson has a new offensive coordinator who is intent on using him differently. Peterson will be more involved in the Vikings' passing game this season, as Turner and Zimmer seek to convert some of his carries into receptions, giving him more room to work in the open field and making him less likely to take a pounding. Turner also has big plans for second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, whose emergence late last season made many wonder why the Vikings waited so long to make him a big part of the offense. Patterson, who played mostly at split end last season, moved to different spots during the Vikings' offseason program, and Turner seems interested in getting the explosive receiver the ball as much as he can; general manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine in February that Turner already had designed about 10 plays for Patterson. If the Vikings can turn him loose in Year 2, he could emerge as one of the NFL's premier playmakers.
In the last few weeks before the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp, we're going to take a look at a number of players on their roster with something to prove this season, excluding rookies. We will focus primarily on veterans or players being asked to assume a larger role this season. We'll kick things off today with defensive end Everson Griffen.

Why he has something to prove: Griffen signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract in March, effectively becoming the successor to Jared Allen at the left end spot, despite starting just one game in his first four years with the Vikings. He found enough snaps in a rotational role, lining up as an inside rusher in the Vikings' nickel package and spelling both Allen and Brian Robison, that the Vikings were willing to spend big money to keep Griffen off the free-agent market. He has the quickness and athletic ability to cause serious matchup problems at defensive end, and he had eight sacks in a part-time role in 2012. But Griffen disappeared too many times early last season, and the Vikings need to see him take the next step toward becoming a consistent force on the defensive line.

What he must do: Griffen's performance this year shouldn't be solely measured by his sack numbers, since he won't have the benefit of lining up in a wide alignment and charging upfield toward the passer as often as Allen did. In Mike Zimmer's system, defensive ends are often asked to line up directly over a defensive tackle and engage blockers before heading into the backfield, so Griffen should be evaluated on how he sets the edge against the run almost as much as how he pursues the quarterback. Griffen also has to prove he can be effective as his workload likely increases; he's never played more than 717 snaps in a season, and he could be asked to log 200 or 250 more than that in 2014, based on how much Zimmer used right end Michael Johnson in Cincinnati. Griffen looked noticeably bigger this spring after staying in the Twin Cities to work out in the offseason, and he'll have to hold up under what will likely be a more taxing workload this season.

Projection: Griffen's sack totals won't be extravagant -- pencil him in for six or seven this season -- but he'll be solid enough against the run to help the Vikings improve there this season under Zimmer. He seemed energized by his new contract and the Vikings' coaching change, and he'll get his chance to take off in 2014.