The Detroit Lions have a new weapon on defense with the incoming addition of Everson Griffen via a trade to the Dallas Cowboys. Griffen has long terrorized the Lions as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, where he played for 10 years of his career.
While his play in Dallas appears to have been poor, at best, I wanted to get a clearer look of Griffen, who he is as a player, and what he may still have left in the tank from someone a little more familiar than those in Dallas.
So I had a brief chat with our friend Arif Hasan, the Minnesota Vikings reporter for The Athletic. Here’s what he had to say about Griffen’s time in Minnesota, and what he may be able to do for Detroit.
What was the feeling in Minnesota when Griffen opted out and the Vikings could/didn’t reach a new deal with him?
“The feeling among fans was disappointment, but understanding. Everson Griffen was coming off of a good year, but I think everyone understood that it was very likely the last good year he had in him and his contract was a little too much. The opt-out was a decision that allowed Everson to seek his full market value. That didn’t really work out for him, but everyone kind of understood.
Of course as the season has gone on and the Vikings defensive line has looked like a series of elaborately constructed origami figurines, people have acted like they felt it was a bad decision at the time—but the feeling in the moment was mostly just understanding disappointment.”
How much had his play diminished prior to this season?
“Griffen wasn’t playing anywhere near his 2017 level and his 2018 play was disrupted with his off-field issues, but for the most part the 2019 return to form was genuine. The problem was, except for the Wild Card round against the Saints, he really dropped off in play after Week 10. The first ten weeks of the season featured a Pro Bowl quality player that could make an argument for potentially being a second-team All-Pro if we’re being generous. The play after that was rock-bottom.”
What do you think Griffen can still do well? Is there anything he can’t do anymore?
“He no longer has the burst he once had, which is why his pass-rushes standing up in Dallas were unremarkable but his pass-rushes from a three-point stance, where he can generate more power and speed, still looked effective to some degree.
He still has a lot of technical capability and can win the hand-fighting battle against offensive tackles and he’s especially good at keeping his chest clean. I think the fact that he is more comfortable on the offense’s left side (defense’s right) is why he was a lot more productive in the last couple of weeks than the first couple of weeks (where he had a pass-rush win rate of 0.0 percent, only generating pressure on unblocked or play-action plays).
That said, I’d say his days as a high-level run defender are over. He was always great at that—except against option—but now looks like he’s bullied a lot more consistently. His sense of pass-rush timing will likely always be there but without the requisite athleticism, it might be tough to recover his former level of play.
Do you perceive him to be a good fit in Detroit’s defensive scheme?
“I mean, Detroit will do whatever, so sure. They’ll line up a player at 0-technique and an “edge rusher” at the 4 to two-gap on one play or play Tite front on the next or move a defensive tackle to the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder on another play and play an edge rusher inside the shoulder of a guard on the play after that. And then two-down linemen with three other players on the line of scrimmage right after that.
I suspect he’ll be a pass-rush specialist on third downs or second-and-long, and Detroit seems to do a lot of the familiar wide-nine, double-three technique, double-A gap stuff Minnesota has done a lot so on those downs, he’ll be a particular fit. I’ve liked him lined up very wide, but that requires a level of athleticism he hasn’t showcased this year. Still, it’s something he knows and he is very capable of using that space.”
How has Griffen looked in Dallas? Looks like he was off to some early struggle, but may have been turning it around?
“I hope the other questions above have answered that — most of the points about him losing his fastball are about his time in Dallas. He lost a step in 2019 for Minnesota but it looks like he lost a leg in 2020.”