Offensive linemen are the unsung members of any football team, left to do their important work while the quarterbacks, receivers and running backs get all the attention.
Except for when things go bad.
The weaknesses for the Minnesota Vikings last week were easily apparent. The ball wasn’t coming out of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s hands and he was falling underneath the pressure of the Detroit Lions’ top-ranked defense. Bridgewater was sacked eight times and Minnesota’s quarterbacks have been sacked 14 times in the past two games.
The questions about the offensive line filled the mailbag this week.
Question: What’s wrong with the Vikings offensive line? Was it that Detroit’s front four are just that good, or the Vikings front seven are just that bad. Teddy Bridgewater didn’t have much time to make a play. — Mike, Minneapolis
Answer: While it sounds like an excuse at times, it does seem like many of the breakdowns Sunday left plenty of blame to go around. Bridgewater did hold on to the ball too long at times. The offensive line did succumb to the pass-rush, as well. When the line held, Bridgewater at times didn’t have receivers to throw to because of coverage. Minnesota’s receivers need to do a better job of getting separation.
There’s also the aspect of Detroit’s defensive line, which has turned into one of the league’s best units. The Lions are also playing well on the back end under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Detroit is the league’s top-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed for a reason. The Lions held the Green Bay Packers to 223 yards total and 147 passing yards in a win earlier this season.
So, to answer your question, I think it was a combination of factors on Sunday. However, if the Vikings’ offense had just one bad game against Detroit, you could understand. Instead, Minnesota has been unable to get much of a passing game going all season. The Vikings rank 30th in the NFL in passing at 194.8 yards per game.
I just wonder how many changes can be made along the offensive line. John Sullivan isn’t having his usual steady season but is still the anchor at center. Minnesota has invested a No. 4 overall draft pick in left tackle Matt Kalil and signed right tackle Phil Loadholt to a big-money deal in 2013. The Vikings also don’t have much depth, particularly if rookie David Yankey hasn’t earned the chance to play.
Minnesota needs to make corrections and figure things out with the players it has. Each of the core players (Sullivan, Kalil and Loadholt) have shown the ability to get the job done in the past. They have to do so again.
Q: After reading numerous mailbags, blogs, articles (anything and everything regarding Vikings) it is clear that not only us the FANS but also COACH Zimmer is extremely disappointed at the Vikings. Also, it was mentioned that Coach Zimmer started fining players. What are the fines like? Can you please shade light on this? How can this disappointment turn into excitement for the Fans in the upcoming games? . . . — Disappointed Vikes Fan, Sioux Falls, SD
A: There’s still reasons to be optimistic, I believe. Minnesota has finished the toughest part of its schedule and the gauntlet of top quarterbacks is over. After facing Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, this week its Kyle Orton. For now, you have to trust that coach Mike Zimmer will get through to his new players and turn things around. It still is early in Zimmer’s tenure.
Zimmer’s admissions this week that he’s had to fine players and a couple of practice-squad players missed a weightlifting session are troubling. Players have to be accountable. It’s on the players to know when and where they need to be. It’s not a good look for any players, let alone guys that are trying to impress a new coaching staff or are fringe players on the practice squad. Minnesota, frankly, hasn’t earned the right to coast.
As far as fines, those are usually kept quiet by the organization. These are fines doled out by the team and not by the league. The league will announce its fines. So, the team has the opportunity to keep those fines out of the public, if successful.
Q: I am sure everybody is gonna complain about the offensive line. My question is, After this season what players around the league will be free agents that the Vikings could look at to help fill some holes for the offensive line and possibly a speedy receiver. Otherwise I like the team all around our defense is quite the improvement from last year I really like how our rookies have performed. . . . — Adam Masseth, Fargo, ND
A: Honestly, it’s a bit too early to see what kind of linemen or receiver might be available to Minnesota. The toughest part is the Vikings have a lot of money and resources tied to the two positions and might not be in a spot to make many changes.
Kalil, Sullivan, Loadholt and right Brandon Fusco are tied to the team through the 2016 season, if Minnesota wants to stay with the core of its line. Starting receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings are under team control through 2017 and Jarius Wright is signed through next season.
I know the line and receivers have struggled this season, but I still believe the players should be able recover and show their potential.
Q: Will the Vikings rethink their weight training and diet regiment after the change? This is the third game that the Vikings looked like the physically weaker team — Rich Kellington
A: Minnesota spent a lot of time, money and effort into changing the diet and training regimens this offseason under the new coaching staff. I don’t think you’ll see many changes in that regard right now.
The Vikings went to more of an Olympic-style lifting philosophy and more dynamic movements for explosive ability. There are times we aren’t seeing the results. I don’t know if the Vikings are physically weaker than opponents but are certainly getting beat physically right now.
Q: What is going on with Matt Kalil? He seems to get beat by pass rushers on a consistent basis. His rookie year he seemed very good but has gone straight downhill the last 2 years. Last year he had an injury but what’s up with him? — Michael, New York
A: Kalil is the most glaring part of the line’s struggles. The former No. 4 overall pick and a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie, Kalil hasn’t been the same the past two seasons. He had a knee injury last season — which we didn’t know at the time — and had offseason surgery. Kalil deserves a pass for playing through the injury.
But that doesn’t answer what has happened this season. He says his knee is fully healed. He admitted to some confidence issues early on, both in the knee and in his play. He said he had to learn to trust his knee again. But he said he was improving and wasn’t worried about any part of his game and then had the missteps last week.
Kalil’s strength was supposed to be in pass protection with his nimble feet being able to handle speed rushers. He’s been beaten by speed this year and also has lost players on inside moves. Zimmer doesn’t like his players, particularly offensive linemen, to be judged by outside sources who might not know exactly what Minnesota is trying to accomplish, but Pro Football Focus now has Kalil graded as the league’s worst tackle so far this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Kalil has allowed six sacks, three quarterback hits and 16 pressures in 415 snaps. Sunday happened to be Kalil’s worst game of the season, according to Pro Football Focus, as he surrendered three sacks in the game.
Perhaps it’s still the confidence issues that Zimmer and Kalil had pointed to earlier this season. We know he has the talent.
Q: Why wasn’t Bridgewater more mobile in the Lions game like he had been in the earlier game? If everyone was rushing, he should have a running lane. — Melissa Flohrs, Trimont, Minn.
A: Bridgewater said he felt good on Sunday and didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the sprained ankle that caused him to miss the previous game. I believe part of the reasoning with him not running as much is simply because there weren’t any holes and he didn’t have much time to even pull the ball down and run.
Detroit did a good job rushing from the outside with speed to collapse the pocket and the Lions’ defensive tackles like Ndamukong Suh didn’t allow Bridgewater the chance to step forward because they were pressuring from the inside.
Q: What is the problem with the coaching staff? It seems that they cannot put together a game plan and execute it. The offensive line (Loadholt, Johnson) should be replaced by rookies who can block. The past two games the offensive line has been non existant. It would not matter if we had Arron Rodgers or Tom Brady as the quarterback. If the QB only has a half of a second, nobody will be successful. Maybe the Vikings picked the wrong person to be head coach. . . . As it currently seems, he is no better than Frasier was. — Dennis Engen
A: The Vikings coaches, particularly offensive coordinator Norv Turner, have begun to see some criticism. Zimmer’s defense had a big bounce-back effort after a dismal performance at Green Bay. After allowing a touchdown on the first drive — in part because of a 41-yard catch and run by third-string running back Theo Riddick — Minnesota held Stafford and the Lions to 175 total yards, a strong effort.
But the offense has been unable to get on track and hasn’t seemed to make the same adjustments. The Vikings haven’t thrown for a touchdown since the first offensive drive of Week 2. That’s more than 19 quarters since scoring a touchdown through the air. The offensive line has been unable to get any push and the coaches haven’t used many extra blockers to aid the line and asked whether the same five offensive linemen would start this week, Zimmer said, "possibly."
The running game has also been inconsistent, though a change was made last week. Rookie Jerick McKinnon earned the start and majority of playing time and came through with 82 total yards.
Q: Why is Christian Ponder still on the team. He has proven that he has happy feet and can’t stand in the pocket. He has tunnel vision and can’t control his passes under pressure. — Woody, Fairmont
A: As he returned to the bench we’re still wondering about Ponder? We covered the Ponder topic last week. The main points to consider is he is under contract, provides a backup who at least brings experience and mobility, and the coaches have said he’s handled his current situation well.
Q: When we played the Falcons they made big running gains around end but against the Packers and the Lions they went right up the middle for large gains. I know the offensive line looked bad against the Lions but what are the Vikings doing to plug up the middle and also do you think the Vikings are trying out any new punters? Thank you — Al Tiseth, Chatham, Ill.
A: I think the run defense was much better last week against Detroit and Linval Joseph had what was likely his best game as a member of the Vikings in shutting down the middle runs last week.
Minnesota isn’t looking for any punters at this time. Jeff Locke will be given a chance to work through a tough game on Sunday. He said much of it was not handling the wind conditions at TCF Bank Stadium, though he said the wind didn’t surprise him.
Thank you for your submissions. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to all of your questions. We tried to answer a wide range of submissions. I hope we continue to hear from you in the future. Our Vikings’ mailbag runs once a week on Thursday mornings during the regular season. Be sure to check FOXSportsNorth.com for upcoming mailbags.