But it has changed from previous seasons, when Griffen was backing up Jared Allen during his Pro Bowl years, but now that the Vikings let Allen walk to the Chicago Bears in free agency and gave Griffen a contract based on confidence and potential, he is just starting to live up to it.
In his first season as full-time starter, Griffen got it going right. He had back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter, the first time that has happened for the Vikings in over a decade, as the Rams were desperately trying to turn around an offense that was out of whack using its third-string quarterback.
Griffen finished the game with two sacks, three tackles, two tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits, adding up to quite an impressive start.
“We came in with an awesome game plan and came in ready to play,” Griffen said. “We had a great week of practice and unfortunately I was sick for a couple, but I love the game of football and I love my teammates. I want to play for the guy next to me and there was no way I was missing this first game.”
He was far from the only one making an impression on the defensive line.
Tom Johnson, a backup defensive tackle acquired in free agency, had two tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit and a forced fumble. Linval Joseph, in his first game back since being shot in the calf hours after the preseason opener, also had a sack and did his job in the run game, contributing five tackles, including one for a loss and a quarterback hit. Sharrif Floyd had two tackles, including one for a loss, before leaving in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury that isn’t expected to be serious. Brian Robison had a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit, as did reserve defensive end Scott Crichton. And Corey Wootton had a pass defended.
In all, it was an active and successful first outing for the defensive line against an offensive line that was expected to be a strength of the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams averaged only 3.3 yards on 22 runs and didn’t have any rushes longer than 7 yards.
ROBINSON’S BIG INT
Josh Robinson had a rough season last year when he was asked to become a nickel back after the forced departure of Antoine Winfield. It was a position Robinson didn’t feel comfortable playing.
This year, Captain Munnerlyn is playing the slot receiver in the nickel defense, when Robinson comes on the field to take the outside receiver. Still, Robinson struggled to stay on the field in training camp because of a hamstring injury.
At one point when asked about injuries, head coach Mike Zimmer referred to Robinson as “the other guy.”
He was more like “the guy” that provided perhaps the most pivotal play in the game. With just over a minute to play in the first half, he intercepted a Shaun Hill pass with an impressive sideline leap and got his feet down in bounds. Twenty-one seconds later, the Vikings scored their first touchdown of the game for a 13-0 lead.
“I have never been disappointed with Josh other than when he wasn’t practicing,” Zimmer said. “Josh is a very good athlete; he has a lot of speed. All of these guys have to try and do the techniques we are trying to teach them to do. I saw him a few times in the ballgame when I was watching the corner, and I thought he did some good things. Obviously, the interception was a big one.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher admitted Robinson’s interception was a bit of a game-changer.
“Our hope there was that right before we threw the interception we would go in at halftime down six, regroup, take possession of the ball in the third quarter and go and make some plays,” Fisher said. “This game was taking on the appearance of a 13-10 type of game prior to us going into the locker room down 13, and then obviously things just slipped away there.”
KALIL vs. QUINN
Matt Kalil is hoping for a bounceback season after his second season as a pro where he played through a knee injury that required offseason surgery.
St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn, meanwhile, set the Rams record with 19 sacks last year, was named to the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro. In addition to leading the NFC in sacks, he provided 33 quarterback hits and 36 pressures.
It was our “key matchup” heading into the game and it provided mixed results.
Kalil had two false starts and Quinn got to Matt Cassel after a botched snap, but that came against guard Charlie Johnson, who was looking to Cassel for protection information when John Sullivan snapped the ball.
Quinn wasn’t credited with a sack there or anytime during the game. His name was called more for penalties – one defensive holding and one roughing the passer.
“(The offensive line) had a tough task and I think that they stepped up to the challenge,” Cassel said. “I think that they were one of the league leaders in sacks last year, and I think we gave up one sack all day. That’s a testament to those guys. I think they work well together. They work hard throughout the week. I was really excited that they played the way that they did and they were able to manage that rush.”
The Rams were second in the NFL last year with a 10.17 sacks-per-pass-attempt percentage. They had 53 sacks, third in the league.
Kalil said during the preseason he thought three or four of the five sacks he gave up last year were on the first series of the game.
“I started off slow,” he said. “I’m not using that as an excuse, it’s football and you have to play through injuries, but it’s good not to be hurt.”
Both of his false starts were the first half.
RETURN OF JOSEPH
Last year as a rookie, Rams RB Zac Stacy had 969 yards and 12 starts, an average of 80.75 yards rushing per start. Against the Vikings, he rushed 11 times for 83 yards.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph had five tackles in his first game as a Vikings, three of them on Stacy.
“They’re pretty stout up front,” Fisher said. “They’re stout and we got … you have to get in a rhythm and we didn’t get in a rhythm. Penalties took us out of the run game. We just never really got started.”
The Vikings’ inactives for Sunday’s game against the Rams included three players that were injured – linebacker Michael Mauti (foot), linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) and fullback Zach Line (ankle).
In addition them, Christian Ponder, the third quarterback, was inactive, as well as a few inactives that showed either their newness to the team (tight end MarQueis Gray) or their spot on the depth chart.
The Vikings decided to keep rookie cornerback Jabari Price active over Shaun Prater, and guard Vladimir Ducasse active over rookie David Yankey. Mike Harris, who was questionable with a shoulder injury, was active but didn’t play. Neither did Ducasse or rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater.
For the Rams, starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee) and center Barrett Jones (back) were ruled out on Friday. Also inactive were QB Case Keenum, RB Tre Mason, S Maurice Alexander, TE Alex Bayer and DL Ethan Westbrooks.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.