On Sunday the Vikings will face a Lions offense that leans heavily on the pass. No team passes on a higher percentage of their offensive snaps (64.9%) than the Lions and only the New Orleans Saints have attempted more passes on the season. The Lions pass-to-run ratio currently sits at 490-278, which includes games with 63 and 50 pass attempts.
The Lions are coming off back-to-back games of 45 and 44 pass attempts, and now they may be even more inclined to attack through the air with starter Jahvid Best out and his replacement, Kevin Smith, also battling injury.
Suffice it to say, Vikings pass rushers – especially the defensive ends – will have a lot of work to do this Sunday. Jared Allen has been productive for the Vikings this season – his 14.5 sacks rank 2nd in the NFL – but not even he can put enough pressure on Lions QB Matthew Stafford alone. Allen’s usual partner on the other end of the defensive line is Brian Robison, but Robison is trying to comeback from a concussion he sustained in last week’s game against the Broncos.
With or without Robison, the Vikings will rely on depth along the defensive line to keep fresh bodies in the game and a relentless pass rush in Stafford’s face. After Allen and Robison, the next two outside pass rushers the Vikings will insert into the game are rookie Christian Ballard and 2nd-year DE Everson Griffen.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator Fred Pagac was asked about his depth along the defensive line during his customary Thursday morning meeting with reporters.
“We’re planning on playing him,” Pagac said of Griffen. “He’s been getting more reps as the season’s gone on. We plan on using him quite a bit. The other guy will be Christian Ballard. Those guys are going to have to play. We’re going to have to rotate people through, we’re going to have to get fresh bodies in there rushing the passer, and play sixty minutes of football. Give them different looks, play aggressively and have some fun.”
Both Ballard and Griffen are 4th-round draft picks of the Vikings, and both figure to be in the team’s long-term plans along the defensive line after impressing coaches and scouts early in their careers. For both players, versatility is a strong-point in their skill sets. They can both contribute on multiple phases of special teams, and they can both play multiple positions on defense. Griffen is most comfortable playing DE, but the Vikings have also experimented with him as a LB. Ballard was a standout at the University of Iowa at both DE and DT, and he’s been productive in short stints for the Vikings at both positions as well.
With the Vikings season coming up short of expectations, now is a great opportunity for these two young players to gain additional playing time and prove even more to coaches that they’re deserving of playing time. Add in the fact that the Vikings defense will face a pass-happy Lions attack this weekend, and the opportunity for Ballard and Griffen gets even better.
Here’s what Pagac had to say about both Ballard and Griffen when he was asked to evaluate them:
On Ballard: “I think that kid is multi-talented. He can play different positions. I don’t think he’ll have a problem there. In fact, the snaps that he has gotten at that end position, he’s been pretty stout and he’s gotten us pretty good push on the pocket. He’s a young player who’s going to be a good football player.”
On Griffen: “Everson has great potential. In my opinion, he’s had pretty good productivity on the plays that he’s played and he’s got to continue to mature and grasp some scheme and go from there. He has great athleticism. He has a good motor. He can make athletic plays.”
Tags: Brian Robison, Christian Ballard, Everson Griffen, Fred Pagac, Jared Allen
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