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January 22, 2018

Eagles OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai shut down Everson Griffen in NFC Championship win

During the 2017 regular season, Minnesota Vikings DE Everson Griffen was fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks, which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl as well as second-team All-Pro recognition. Griffen has a great speed rush to the outside, which he counters with inside moves, most notably his inside spin.

Asked about the Vikings' defense in general prior to the game, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson singled out Griffen as a player who can significantly impact the outcome of games.

"He's a game-wrecker," Pederson said.

"He's definitely a premier pass rusher and player in general," offensive coordinator Frank Reich added. "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."

Facing off against Griffen was second-year offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has struggled at times filling in as a reserve for Jason Peters. Vaitai is generally thought of as the lone question mark on an otherwise outstanding line. On Sunday night, Vaitai was excellent against Griffen.

"I thought Big V played extremely well," Pederson said. "Extremely well. We did help him from time to time, but there were also times when he had to be on an island and block a tremendous defensive end who has had a heck of a year. I had a lot of confidence in V, and obviously, there are things we've seen in him, his maturity, his growth as a left tackle, and he played extremely well last night."

I went back and looked at the game, and on the night, Griffen had two tackles, two quarterback hits, and no sacks. Only one of those quarterback hits came against Vaitai, and it was on a play in which Griffen got no pressure whatsoever, but Nick Foles ran into him on his own while unloading the football.

The Eagles did help Vaitai some, as Pederson noted. They chipped with a TE, chipped with a RB, rolled out the opposite way, had some three-step drops, screens, play action, and a steady diet of RPO's (run-pass options) that all helped slow the Vikings' pass rush down.

Still, I counted 10 occasions in which Foles took a traditional dropback, and Griffen was lined up one-on-one against Vaitai. Griffen got next to nothing in the way of pressure on those prime pass rush opportunities. 

In what many (self-included) saw as potentially the biggest matchup advantage for the Vikings heading into this contest, it ended up being a decided victory for the Eagles. The underdog theme just never dies.

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