Gruden later said that Minnesota’s success defensively “starts with the pass rush” after the unit takes away a team’s run game.
“They get these pass rushers a lot of at-bats, and they can rip it, man. I mean, Everson Griffen is back,” Gruden said emphatically. “Whatever anybody has said about Griffen in the past or whatever he went through last year, I don’t know, but he is playing really well. And Danielle Hunter’s one of the best unknown defensive ends in the league. I don’t know why he doesn’t get more credibility. [Xavier] Rhodes can shut you down, [Trae] Waynes is a first-rounder, Harrison Smith is a multi-Pro Bowler. They’ve got a lot of good players. … They’re tough. They are tough.”
Gruden, who led the Raiders from 1998-2001 and returned to the helm in 2018 after 10 years away from coaching, pointed out that Minnesota’s defense has some similarities to Oakland’s, but the Vikings are able to be more advanced because of their longevity.
“They know where all the snakes are, in every coverage,” Gruden said. “They know where the problems are, and they can make adjustments. Every year, they can give you something, a twist or two, that you haven’t see and can’t prepare for.”
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr also spoke to the uniqueness of the Vikings carryover on defense.
The former Fresno State standout has been in Oakland since being drafted 36th overall in 2014, which was Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s first season in Minnesota. Carr said it’s unusual that so many of the players on the Vikings roster that season are still in the locker room.
“Nowadays, that doesn’t happen all that often. A lot of the defenses I played back then, they’ve got people scattered all over the place,” Carr said. “This many guys staying in one place is pretty special. It says a lot about their system and their coaching staff and how much they believe in people.”
The Vikings have changed considerably more offensively, and the adjustments have shown up primarily in the run game over the first two games.
After ranking 30th in the NFL with 93.3 rushing yards per game in 2018, the Vikings so far are averaging 185 yards per game, which is tied with the Colts for second in the league. Dalvin Cook has shouldered most of the workload, having already racked up 265 yards on the ground.