Vaitai Faces Toughest Test
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Minnesota Vikings defense is a lot like a Hollywood blockbuster with an ensemble cast ...there are stars everywhere.
In the leadup to Sunday's NFC Championship Game, one name keeps coming up first at the NovaCare Complex, however, second-team All-Pro defensive end Everson Griffen, one of the best edge rushers in the NFL.
"[No.] 97 [Griffen], he's a game-wrecker," Eagles coach Pederson said on Monday. "You've got to try to pass protect him."
The problem comes in with the fact that Griffen is a traditional weak-side end and through a quirk in the schedule most of the top pass rushers the Eagles have faced like Von Miller, Khalil Mack and DeMarcus Lawrence, typically line up on the left side of the defense where All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson has done a magnificent job of stymieing them as the right tackle.
This week the weak link of the Eagles' O-line, left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai will be tasked with trying to slow down Griffen, a player who complements one of the best speed rushes in the sport with the strength to bull rush and a devastating spin move that even Dwight Freeney would put a stamp of approval on.
"He's definitely a premier pass rusher and player in general," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said of Griffen. "He's had a great year. He's been a great player for a long time. So you've got to account for him. You've got to know where he's at. He's earned the respect of being called a game-wrecker. He's put that on his resume for sure."
That means Vaitai won't be out there on an island and the Eagles will be using tight ends and running backs to chip Griffen at times while also using RPOs and quick passes to get the football out of the hands of Nick Foles as quickly as possible.
What you don't want to see is Nick Foles hesitating and holding onto the football with Griffen approaching. That is a strip sack waiting to happen.
"You've got to be smart and you've got to know that that position, [Griffen] can change the ballgame," Pederson said. "So we're going to be smart and we're going to understand. [Vaitai] knows that tight ends are going to help over there, backs are going to help over there, slide protection. ...It's not rocket science.
"But Big V has had a challenge all season. We've faced some tremendous defensive ends all season long and this will be his greatest challenge in this game. But I have a lot of confidence in V and what he's done this season and he'll get a good week of preparation and be ready to go."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen