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Learning to Shoulder Opponents' Chips Part of Everson Griffen's Success

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Opposing teams haven't made it easy for Everson Griffen to get to their quarterback.

Many times throughout a game, Griffen finds himself being chipped by an offensive skill position player who gets a piece of Griffen to help the offensive tackle and prevent a 1-on-1.

Sometimes a tight end chips and then goes out late on a route. Other times it's a running back. Occasionally, it's both.

"A lot of times we get the tight end chipping one of [the defensive ends], and the back chipping the other one," Vikings offensive line coach Andre Patterson said.

Offensive coordinators preparing to face Griffen have shown they're willing to sacrifice some play-call flexibility in order to keep – or attempt to keep – the Pro Bowler contained.

"Those are two receivers that normally would release out on a route and could challenge [the back end of our defense] quickly," Patterson said. "So because they have to secure those two before they go out, there's two [fewer targets] that the quarterback has a chance to throw the ball to down the field."

Griffen noticed teams beginning to occasionally chip him three years ago and was frustrated by the added hurdle. Now, however, he's come to expect the adversity and credits Patterson with helping him effectively counteract the tactic.

"Every team that we play blocks us differently. You know, they have different protections, different schemes, we [might] get more chips," Griffen said. "So we just have to have the mindset of, 'I'm going to get chipped,' and then when you do, [knowing how] to attack the chip.

"Finally, this year, I feel like I kind of figured it out," Griffen later added. "You just rush, and when you see them, you go attack them, or you attack the tackle, and you just try to take that out of your process and make it non-existent. Play it the right away."

The tape – and the numbers – demonstrate that Griffen has indeed been playing the chips the right way.

According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Griffen through the first eight weeks of the season was chipped on 35 snaps, making him the most-chipped edge defender in the NFL. The next closest at the season's midway point was Oakland's Khalil Mack (28). Minnesota was the only team to have two players in the top 10, with Danielle Hunter (25) fifth on the list.

What makes the stat even more interesting, however, is that while leading the league in being chipped, Griffen also vies for top slots in quarterback pressures and in sacks.

Through Week 8, Griffen's 10 sacks placed him third in the league behind Calais Campbell (12) and Demarcus Lawrence (11). Griffen also was tied for seventh in the league with 35 total quarterback pressures; in pressures solely from the right side, Griffen led with 31.

"It's hard enough to get sacks when you just have to beat one guy; it's hard enough to get pressures when you have to just beat one guy," Patterson said following the Vikings game in London. "It just tells you how well he's played up to this point in the season. You have to have a great deal of respect that he's willing to fight through that."

Patterson recalled the time when Griffen began earning more recognition and, in turn, more chip blocks.

"The first time it started happening to him, I went up to him and said, 'OK, you want to be considered the best? Now deal with it. This is part of what comes along with it,' " Patterson said. " 'Part of you getting the label as being one of the top pass rushers at your position, that feels good, and it sounds good, but there's something that comes along with it.'

"It comes time where he has to say, 'OK, this is part of my world now,' " Patterson continued. "So there's a growing process to that … You have to get to a point to where you understand that it's part of what comes with your job."

Hunter, in his third NFL season and receiving the same lessons, said Patterson at one point recently texted him the numbers of how often teams have been chipping him and Griffen.

"He tells me all the time, 'Just fight through it,' " Hunter said of Patterson. "He said it took [three] years to try and get that out of Griff's head about the chipping. Now he's just telling me, 'You've just got to go through it. There's nothing you can do about it. If you want it, go get it.' "

Ask Griffen about Coach Patterson, and likely the first thing from his mouth will be, "He's the best D-line coach in the NFL." Griffen is in his eighth year in Purple but fourth with Patterson and says his game has improved immensely in those three-plus seasons.

Patterson is in his 14th season as an NFL coach and has accrued plenty of experience, including his first stint in Minnesota from 1998-99. In his first year coaching the Vikings defensive line, Minnesota's defense improved from 23rd in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (123.9) to 11th (100.9). Vikings Hall of Famers John Randle and Chris Doleman were among the linemen who learned from Patterson during those two seasons.

Patterson said he had similar conversations with Randle and Doleman nearly 20 years ago when they were chipped by opponents, and he encouraged his former players to share their experiences with Griffen.

"I talk to Johnny – not on the phone, but anytime I see him, I talk to him about how he attacked the game," Griffen said. "He said that he used to get chipped and that he just took it out of his thinking – 'I am going to get chipped,' and when the chip did come, he just figured out how to attack it. That's what Coach Andre did – he taught me keys that enabled me to attack the chip and not let it affect me."

Griffen said he's now able to view the chipping as less of an annoyance and more of a reflection on his progress as a player.

"It's a respect factor. They respect me," Griffen said. "They respect that if they give me too many rushes, I'm going to beat the guy in front of me."

Griffen has proven that to be true.

The defensive end is already just two sacks shy of his previous career-high (12 in 2014) and has notched a sack in each of the eight games he's played this season. Griffen missed last week's game at Washington with a foot injury but could continue his individual sacks streak if he's able to take down Rams QB Jared Goff on Sunday.

But Griffen's sights are set on a Vikings victory first and a sack second.

"It's all about winning, me doing my job to help the guy next to me, help my team win," Griffen said. "Do I want to beat the sack streak? One hundred percent. It's part of the National Football League – records are meant to be broken. But at the same time, I stay grounded by just doing my job at a high level."  

Patterson said he has worked to instill a team-first mentality in his players, and he's proud of the way the linemen have jelled, learned to rush as a group and reaped the benefits.

The coach said he doesn't want Griffen to be known as a "sack guy" but rather as a complete defensive end who plays the run just as effectively as he rushes the passer.

"I don't make a big deal out of sacks," Patterson said. "The most impressive stat Griff' has, to me, is the pressures. Because the pressures affect the quarterback, and that's what you're trying to do – keep him off the spot, make him throw the ball too fast, make him throw it too high. Those things help our team win."

Looking back over his years with the Vikings and at his success so far this season, Griffen reflected over the player he's become. In addition to working with Patterson, he believes his increased maturity as a player – which he credits to his faith and experience as a father – has led to a deeper focus and more success on the gridiron.

"I was working on my mental game this offseason. How mentally can I lock in for four quarters to get what I want?" Griffen said. "And that's what I've been doing. My mental game is stronger than ever, and my will to win is stronger than ever."

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