EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday he appreciated the relentless approach that Everson Griffen sustained the previous day more so than the 2.0 sacks that eventually resulted against the Panthers.
Griffen added to his team-leading and career-high 11 sacks on the season by wrapping up Cam Newton for a loss of 10 to force a punt early in the fourth quarter and by dropping the quarterback for a loss of 8 on Carolina's next possession to set up a disadvantageous third-and-16.
It wasn't stat padding for Griffen, whose sack total ranks seventh in the league (click here to vote for Griffen in the 2015 Pro Bowl). It was capitalizing on finally getting a one-on-one matchup with Panthers tackle Byron Bell.
The Panthers showed Griffen a high level of respect through the way they tried to slow him down with combination blocks by two offensive linemen, or by chipping him with a tight end or running back, whose jobs were to nudge Griffen before or after the primary blocker on the play engaged the defensive end. There were even a couple times when Griffen had three blockers between him and Newton.
"I was getting chipped the whole game and they finally gave me a one-on-one with them and I beat him and got the sack," Griffen said after the game. "That was a big sack for the team. It was third-and-12 or something. We were able to sustain the game."
Carolina trailed 28-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, in part because of Griffen's 43-yard return for a touchdown of a punt block made by Jasper Brinkley. Facing third-and-13 from their own 36 with 13:13 remaining, the Panthers opted to release running back DeAngelo Williams from pass protection support so the running back could run a route near the line of scrimmage, and Griffen was rewarded for his continued work.
Griffen was able to use his speed on his second sack to get to Newton, who was in the shotgun formation on a second-and-8 after Minnesota extended its lead to the game's final margin of 31-13. He also won a one-on-one matchup with Bell during Carolina's next series, drawing an illegal use of hands to the face penalty that negated a 20-yard run.
"Everson is a great athlete, he's not a good athlete, he's a great athlete," Zimmer said. "He's one of the best athletes I've been around at defensive end in a long time. The thing that I like the most about him is he wants to always please. He's really not an "I" guy at all. Even though he's getting some statistics, he is not an "I" guy. He'll do whatever the coaches, Coach (Andre) Patterson, Coach (Robb) Akey, Coach (George) Edwards ask him to do whether it's the best thing for him or not. Those things happen, and he's an extremely hard worker. I think you combine those things with him being a great athlete and being a hard player, you're going to get a full day's work out of him, and then doing what he's supposed to do. I think it helps him to continue to make plays.
The extra attention that Griffen, a first-year starter, is receiving is something that he's determined to work past.
"You do get frustrated, but you can't let the frustration take you out of the game," Griffen said. "You just have to keep on going and keep on working, and that's what I did. I stayed in the zone, I really relied on my teammates to go out there and win their one-on-ones, and I just have to keep going. When I finally got my chance to get the one-on-one, I just beat the guy and I got the sack."
Zimmer said Griffen's ability to maintain focus and persistence show growth in Griffen's approach to the game.
"He stuck with the plan and when he got the opportunities to get some one-on-ones, he took advantage of them," Zimmer said. "Those kinds of things, to me, are where I see progress."