Through two games, Chad Greenway has arguably been the Vikings’ defensive MVP. After a rocky start against the Jaguars that included getting torched once in coverage, Greenway locked down his game and played just about as well as we’ve ever seen him play. Late in that game Greenway made several crucial plays, including a pair of huge pass batdowns. Those plays stood out because, frankly, Greenway has had a habit of disappearing in such game-changing situations. To see him rise up and impact a game that much was very encouraging.
Greenway followed up that performance with another solid day of work against the Colts. The Vikings’ defense as a whole had its problems in that game, especially in 2-minute situations, but Greenway’s play was not the issue. He was so strong against Indy that PFF included him on their Team of the Week for week 2 (it appears Greenway has supplanted Erin Henderson as PFF’s favorite Vikings linebacker).
That’s two impactful performances in a row for Greenway. Truly impactful, not just really good. We know Greenway was good in 2011 for the most part, and we know he ended the season by rolling up a large number of tackles (keeping in mind that the definition of a tackle is wildly subjective), but he wasn’t always enough of a big play type guy. Yes he made the Pro Bowl but it was a somewhat dubious selection. Look beyond the raw tackling numbers and you saw a lack of high impact plays. No interceptions. A low number of tackles for loss. He just didn’t pass the eyeball test as a truly top-of-the-line player. Most of the time he was just there doing his job. He wasn’t changing games.
I was willing to concede then and I’ll still concede now that Greenway was somewhat hampered last year by the circumstances around him. When you have as bad a defense as the Vikings had for much of the year, it makes it harder on a guy like Greenway because he’s often being called on to not only do his own job, but the job of whatever sub-par player is out there in his vicinity not performing up to snuff. Guys blow assignments. Guys gamble and lose. Guys simply don’t do the right things. Maybe guys are limited in their mobility because of lower body issues. And players like Greenway, who know their jobs and don’t get out of position too much and are above all fully healthy, are forced to cover for those players, which hinders their own ability to make those big plays we’re looking for.
Greenway’s increased production in 2012 is possibly due to better defensive line play in front of him and at least more disciplined if not actually more effective secondary play behind him. And maybe having Jasper Brinkley out there instead of the physically limited E.J. Henderson is helping some too (though Brinkley obviously has his own limitations and when you look at snap counts he’s not really out there that much). Greenway certainly seems to be playing freer and easier this year. He was all over the place in the latter stages of the Jacksonville game. That was the stretch that really impressed. That was what a Pro Bowl linebacker looks like. If Greenway keeps playing like that, he will at last earn the kudos that some prematurely heaped on him last year and even before that. He might even earn that giant contract the Vikings gave him.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.