Tuesday Reflections: Some Much Needed OL Improvement

Our Minnesota Vikings entered the 2021 season desperate for offensive line improvement. Thankfully, the Week 1 performance hasn’t spiraled into further craziness up front. Instead, the big dudes have been playing well. Our strong offensive performances largely flow from this improvement along the OL. After discussing the OL in some more detail, we shift the focus to the Cameron Dantzler situation before ending with a brief look at how the defense is playing as a whole.

The Minnesota Vikings Offensive Line

You’d be forgiven if you entered the season feeling somewhat discouraged about the state of our offensive line. The news seemingly got worse when Christian Darrisaw’s injury lingered, leaving us with Rashod Hill as the starting LT for the foreseeable future (though waiting on Darrisaw is the right thing to do).

Surprisingly enough, things have actually gone pretty well for our guys up front. A lot of that success has to do with how Lil’Kub is calling the games. Kirk is getting the ball out of his hands much, much faster. As a result, our OL has to keep Kirk clean for less time.

Even still, they deserve praise for how they’ve played. If we ignore Hill’s score, PFF is giving us reasonably strong grades across the line. Ezra Cleveland is the 28th-ranked guard and Oli Udoh is coming in at 12th. If this patern holds, they’ll be our best pair of guards in a long time. Brian O’Neill is 26th out of 74 tackles. His 78.5 pass blocking score is particularly impressive. Garrett Bradbury continues to be underwhelming, but at least he’s getting a little better. He is the 24th center.

If Darrisaw can return and at least be average, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line is going to be pretty good.

The “Dantzler Drama”

For some crazy reason, Bashaud Breeland continues to get the snaps as our CB2. Dantzler really should have started Week 3; Breeland got roasted out there. The irony is that what may be keeping Dantzler off the field isn’t his play. Take a look at the tweet he sent out immediately following Minnesota’s first win of the season:

Dustin took on the topic over at VT before I had the chance to get to it on Purple PTSD. Here is what he had to say: “The timing of his now-deleted tweet was suspect. Minnesota just authored its first win of the season, a resounding feat because the franchise had previously failed to defeat Russell Wilson on seven straight occasions. Yes, seven. That changed on Sunday as the Vikings rallied from a 17-7 deficit, suffocating the Seahawks in the second half en route to a 30-17 win.”

Zim was asked about the tweet in his Monday press conference, leading him to explain that he’ll address the situation with his sophomore corner. The hope is that this whole situation gets sorted out sooner rather than later. It’s hard to imagine that on-field play is the deciding factor since Breeland has been so awful. Hopefully Dantzler can make the necessary adjustments to ensure he gets back onto the field.

The Defense Still Has Room to Improve

When I was doing some research for the aforementioned Dantzler piece, I came across some not-so-great statistics for our Vikings defense:

The Vikings are currently allowing more than 400 yards of offense per game. Teams are averaging 290.3 passing yards against us. This problem goes beyond just Breeland, but he has consistently allowed teams to pick up completions, many of them for long plays.

Now, everything for our team begins with establishing the run (on offense) and stopping the run (on defense). There’s a reason why Spielman and Zim made such an effort to improve at DT. The Vikings, quite evidently, feel like they need to be better on early downs. The Pierce/Tomlinson duo ought to make life pretty difficult in this regard. At this point, though, we’re allowing almost 120 yards of rushing per game. To improve our pass defense, we’ll need to first begin with shutting down the run.

Against Seattle, we saw what happens when a team has to throw against us. We have the pass rushers to be disruptive when they’re allowed to pin their ears back. They can do this on 3rd & 7; they can’t do this on 3rd & 2. Shut down the run early and this will be a different defense. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will be a true test.

The Send Off

The hope from yours truly is that the Minnesota Vikings will continue getting some strong performances from their offensive line. If they do, their offense is going to be extremely difficult to slow down, especially with Kirk looking so sharp. The defense needs to sort things out on their end. Re-adding Dantzler to the lineup and recommitting to early down run responsibility will go a long way toward this goal.