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NOTEBOOK: With and Without Sacks, Richardson Helping Vikings Pressure Passers

EAGAN, Minn. – For the first time since December 2014 (ironically against the Vikings), Sheldon Richardson notched more than one sack in a game.

The defensive tackle took down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice en route to Minnesota’s 24-17 defeat of Green Bay on Sunday Night Football.

“I’m grateful. I’m humbled by it,” Richardson told Twin Cities media members Monday afternoon via conference call. “Just a great feeling to finally get some sacks further along in my career.”

What the Vikings consistently preach under Head Coach Mike Zimmer, however, is that sacks don’t tell the whole story. It’s quite possible for defenders to affect the quarterback without putting a tally in the sacks column, and Richardson is a prime example.

In Sunday’s Border Battle, Richardson and his comrades on the defensive line pressured Rodgers throughout the evening, doing so effectively enough that Zimmer called very few blitzes.

Richardson believes he’s made an impact for Minnesota since signing with the team this spring as a free agent.

“I think I get pressure on game-in and game-out. Stout in the run,” Richardson said when asked about his performance over the past few months. “Doing everything right and trusting the process. I think I’m doing a great job of that, but I’m just trying to do more.”

Richardson’s confidence isn’t unfounded. Zimmer was asked about the 3-technique during his session with media Monday and overall was positive about his progress.

“I think he’s done well,” Zimmer said. “I think the thing with Sheldon, it’s always the same thing we’ve been working on with him, is when he clears, not widening his hips to get outside to the quarterback. He had quite a few pressures a year ago before he came here, but this year he is starting to work a little bit more vertically with it, and I think that’s helping him.”

Zimmer and Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson have communicated in past interviews that Richardson has fit well into the culture of the team.

Richardson was asked about that concept, and he said he first knew that he would fit in with the Vikings when he spoke with Zimmer, Patterson and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.

“[It’s a] blue-collar organization, definitely a blue-collar organization. Guys come in and work. Everybody is in here … to be great. In the league, you’ve got to do it every day,” Richardson said. “That’s one of the main reasons why I like the organization, nobody’s a prized possession here. There’s no politics.

“They don’t play their draft picks sometimes,” he added. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been on a team … where they don’t come in and automatically start. You can pay a guy a lot of money, and he won’t play if he’s not up to par. You’ve got to respect that.”

Elflein on ‘getting back in the groove,’ implementing screen game

After missing all of spring and summer while rehabbing shoulder and ankle injuries, Pat Elflein had to get caught up and get his legs back under him.

The second-year center missed the first two games of the season before playing in a limited capacity against the Bills Week 3. Elflein said he “felt good” against Buffalo but really started to regain a rhythm against the Rams in Week 4.

“I still feel like I’m getting better and improving,” Elflein said. “Dealing with injuries, it throws another wrench in the game. When you injure something, that body part probably will never be the same again. So dealing with those and just getting back in the groove of playing football at the highest level.

“It’s still getting better and better, but I felt comfortable in the Rams game, for sure,” Elflein said.

The Vikings were able to implement a couple of screen passes against the Packers Sunday, including one to Dalvin Cook for the running back’s first career receiving touchdown.

Elflein acknowledged the difference an effective screen game can make.

“I just think that game plans vary week to week, and game-planning against Green Bay, that screen looked good, and we called it, and we got the defense we wanted against that play,” Elflein explained of Cook’s touchdown.

Cook difficult to defend in space, opens up offense

Cook’s score came on one of Elflein’s favorite plays, which allows the center to get out to the second level.

“I know that Dalvin’s getting the ball on that one, so if you can give that guy a little bit of air, he’s going to take it to the house almost every time,” Elflein said. “It was against a good defense, got out in space, did my job and everyone else did their job, and it worked out.”

Zimmer said it makes the offense “really, really” difficult to defend when Cook can be utilized on screens.

“When he gets in space, he’s pretty good,” Zimmer said. “He made several guys miss last night with some good runs. We got in space, and that is another weapon.

“They’re really zeroing in on [Adam] Thielen and [Stefon] Diggs, and rightfully so,” Zimmer continued. “But when you get the ball to [Kyle] Rudolph, you get the ball to Cook, you get the ball to [Laquon] Treadwell or [Aldrick] Robinson, that helps the entire deal. Then you get a better chance to get the ball to the other two guys.”

Zimmer not concerned about Rhodes’ injury

Late in the fourth quarter, Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes was in coverage and pulled up with a leg injury just before Packers receiver Davante Adams made a 36-yard catch.

Rhodes was helped to the sideline by the Vikings training staff and did not return to the game.

Zimmer gave an update on Rhodes’ injury Monday, saying it is “very, very mild.”

“And as far as the TV doctors that were reporting, it’s very erroneous,” Zimmer added.

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