As the Minnesota Vikings prepare to face off with the New Orleans Saints, we will focus on one key matchup each day. For Part 2, we look at Everson Griffen vs. Terron Armstead.
The Minnesota Vikings have always known they had a superstar in Everson Griffen, it just took awhile for his true potential to be reached. While he’s been very good since Mike Zimmer made him a starter in 2014, we will look at the 2017 season as the year Griffen maximized his insane skill set.
Similarly, New Orleans Saints left tackle Terron Armstead was a boom-or-bust mid-round draft pick out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff. While injuries have plagued his last two seasons, Armstead has proven to be a franchise player. The Saints signed him to a five-year, $65 million contract in May 2016.
Who will win the battle on Sunday?
It’s always difficult to quantify the performance of an individual offensive lineman, whether it’s through sack stats or Pro Football Focus grades, but Armstead’s grades tell the story clearly. He improved over his first three seasons and when fully healthy he was an elite player at his position.
By Football Outsiders metrics, the Saints rank as the second best team in Adjusted Sack Rate. Drew Brees also had the third lowest rate of facing pressure.
For Griffen, he cracked the “elite” category by PFF rankings for the first time in his career finishing the season as the 10th rated edge rusher. He picked up 13.0 sacks and ranked 11th in QB pressures by Football Outsiders tracking. Since becoming a starter in 2014, he’s sacked opposing quarterbacks 43.5 times in 62 games. The end of the season was not as fruitful for Griffen, who only managed one sack over the final five games, but he continued to impact the game on a play-to-play basis. He played 79.4 percent of plays, so Armstead will get no breaks.
This matchup will be freak athlete vs. freak athlete. At the 2013 NFL Combine, Armstead ran the fastest 40-yard dash at 4.71, just ahead of Eagles star Lane Johnson. He also ranked at the top in the high jump and broad jump. In high school, he was part of a championship track and field team. Armstead’s athleticism allows him to move his feet with the quickest pass rushers in the NFL and recover quickly if they get an edge.
Griffen has out-of-this-world explosiveness. Way back when, he ran an insane 4.46 40-yard dash. He’s very good at timing snap counts and blowing past tackles before they can react. He’s got an array of different types of pass rushes, including a powerful bull rush, spin move and chop and rip. There’s a twitter account dedicated to his different moves. Tackles never know which is coming. But they know it’s coming on every snap. Griffen’s No. 1 trait is his relentlessness. He doesn’t take plays off and his final rush will look like his first of the game.
In 2014, Griffen picked up two tackles in a 20-9 loss. Brees was only sacked once for five yards in that game. When the Vikings played the Saints in Week 1, Armstead did not play.
Armstead is battling a thigh injury. He batted through against the Carolina Panthers in the Wild Card game and will likely not be 100 percent against the Vikings. Griffen, on the other hand, is well rested from the bye week.
However, Drew Brees is in the top 10 among quarterbacks with the quickest time from snap to release. That could make it more challenging for Griffen to reach the quarterback. The Vikings’ D-end is terrific against the run and has the quickness to blow up short passes to running backs, which could come in handy against Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.