Unsung Hero: Brian O’Neill
Since being drafted in the second round of the 2018 draft, Brian O’Neill has exceeded expectations for the Minnesota Vikings. The initial plan was to let O’Neill sit for a year as he gained strength and experience, but an injury necessitated playing time. O’Neill hasn’t disappointed. On Sunday, O’Neill matched up with Carolina’s Brian Burns. Per PFF, Burns is the 10th best defensive end in the NFL, largely because of his elite pass rushing score. O’Neill shut him down on Sunday.
Brian O’Neill’s Performance
O’Neill had a strong game on Sunday. He has really nice footwork, allowing him to get to his spot as he absorbs the pass rusher. In the run game, O’Neill is capable of getting to the second level, an important ability for Gary Kubiak‘s offense.
The above video does a nice job of showing several of the key battles between O’Neill and Burns. O’Neill repeatedly demonstrates good balance and powerful hands. Even when the advantage appears to be leaning toward the edge rusher, O’Neill is capable of getting his feet underneath him as he anchors in pass protection.
O’Neill did have a few tough reps on Sunday. At times, Carolina’s defenders had success working inside on O’Neill. This is something that opposing coaches and players will undoubtedly notice, so the Vikings will need to ensure that O’Neill is prepared for this. Moreover, there were a few moments when Carolina’s defenders were able to get underneath his pads, driving him back from the line of scrimmage. These instances, though, were definitely in the minority. It’s hard to envision the Vikings winning if Brian O’Neill didn’t play so well. He largely contained one of the NFL’s best edge rushers.
In fairness, Minnesota’s coaches did help O’Neill. At times, there was a tight end on the right side to chip Burns before releasing for a route. At the start of the game, Gary Kubiak called a swing pass and then a screen to Dalvin Cook. Both went to the right side. These plays help to slow the pass rush. The plan, quite evidently, was to offer O’Neill some help, but that shouldn’t detract from an important reality: O’Neill won his match up against an elite defensive end.
Before the season, there was some discussion of the Vikings moving Brian O’Neill from RT to LT. Riley Reiff was asked to take a pay cut, and his initial refusal seemingly opened a spot along the left side. Thankfully, Reiff reconsidered, and O’Neill has been able to continue at RT.
O’Neill, who is PFF’s 28th ranked tackle, should stay along the right side. He does a tremendous job in both pass and run defense, which was evident on Sunday. The Vikings would be wise to allow him to continue developing into one of the NFL’s preeminent right tackles.