Sam Bradford was great versus Packers, but O-line is holding Vikings back

Minnesota has the look of a Super Bowl contender -- except for the very poor performance through two games of its offensive line.

| 9 months ago
(Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

(Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

Sam Bradford was great versus Packers, but O-line is holding Vikings back

Newly acquired quarterback Sam Bradford made a difference to the Minnesota Vikings offense, and the team is now 2-0, with a win over their main divisional rival the Green Bay Packers. But they won’t be Super Bowl contenders as long as the offensive line remains as bad as it has been.

Star running back Adrian Peterson went off injured against Green Bay with a knee injury that is expected to sideline him for some time but not shut him down for the season, but the way the offensive line is playing it might not make a huge difference.

Peterson gained 19 yards on 12 carries against the Packers, but he gained 20 after contact. He was being hit behind the line on average. Matt Asiata, Peterson’s replacement, gained 13 yards on six carries, 10 of which came after contact. Jerick McKinnon gained two yards on two carries. As a team, the Vikings rushed for 29 yards last night, and 30 after contact.

Peterson had two of his biggest gains (five and four yards) heading off right or left end – in other words, he was trying to get around the line entirely.

We have seen in the past that Peterson is capable of getting things done despite poor blocking up front, but at his age it likely can’t be relied upon, and now with his knee injury he himself can’t even be relied upon for the team.

(Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)

It is possible to succeed with below-average or even bad offensive line play in today’s NFL, it’s just a lot harder. The Seattle Seahawks have been consistently doing it for years, but they have Russell Wilson, had Marshawn Lynch and the threat of the read/option to stress a defense and effectively “block” a free defender (because he had to hold in place waiting to see whether the quarterback kept the ball or not) when they wanted it done. The Vikings now have none of those elements, and what’s more concerning is that the line was even worse in pass protection than it was run blocking against the Packers.

As a unit they combined for 17 total pressures. Each lineman only had 36 pass-blocking plays to contend with, and yet every member surrendered pressure, and Joe Berger was the only one to escape without allowing multiple pressures. Through two weeks of action the Vikings now have three of their linemen rank in the bottom five of their position in PFF grade. Matt Kalil (36.9), Andre Smith (40.0) and Brandon Fusco (38.1) are all struggling badly, and expensive free-agent acquisition Alex Boone (54.2) isn’t much better than that level. Center Joe Berger has been the team’s best lineman, and his 73.6 grade is both hardly stellar and a massive drop from the 88.0 grade he had a year ago.

The line alone right now is a prohibitive cap on Minnesota’s prospects this season. You can win a Super Bowl with a line this bad, but it takes a QB playing at an unsustainably elite level in the face of pressure — like Giants QB Eli Manning was able to during the 2011 season. During that regular season, the Giants offensive line allowed a league-leading 222 total pressures. Right now, the Vikings are on pace to surrender 224.

The most optimistic Vikings fan on Earth would find it tough to imagine Sam Bradford going on the kind of run that Manning did in 2011. Manning himself has never come close to replicating it, and the Giants have never come close to contending again as a result.

Bradford is a quarterback capable of winning the Vikings games, as last night’s 87.2 game grade showed. With the impressive defense they have in place, and with a strong start to the season, they would be well placed to make a run, but their offensive line is simply too bad right now to think seriously about a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. It will need to take a significant step forward for that to happen.

Losing Peterson for an extended period of time is a big blow to this offense, but as things stand, Peterson was taking the hand off and then running into a brick wall of purple bodies at the line – if he was lucky. His average carry this season has seen him gain just 0.19 yards, or about seven inches, before being hit by defenders, and you’re just not going to get it done on the ground with that kind of blocking.

At 2-0, sitting atop the division and with the first showing from Bradford a very good one, there are several reasons to be happy for the Vikings. But if this team wants to be anything more than that, they need to be thinking seriously about what they can do to improve the performance from the O-line, because right now it’s what is going to curtail the success of the season.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Viking defense will keep them competitive in nearly every game but Peterson is still the meal ticket. Without him they would have to rely on smoke and mirrors to achieve their goals for this season. Bradford having one good game doesn’t put to rest his durability issues either.

    • 81TinaKane

      Honestly I think with Bradford at the helm and the oline struggling to run block I don’t think A.P is the meal ticket any more. Even if hes out 1 or 2 games, Mckinnen an Asiata are more then capable replacements. Teams are going to get burned if they keep loading up on the run with Bradford behind center. 1 game does not make a season for the Vikings or Bradford, but after 15 days he made throws that Teddy had only hoped to make. The Oline is below average at this point and I would hope the Vikings reach out to Sullivan to try and bring him back and move berger back to guard. Harris out with injury has been a big blow as well. but lets not pretend the Vikings are the only team with O line issues

      • enai D

        Calling the O-Line “below average at this point” is incredibly generous, at best. This has to be a bottom-3 offensive line right now. They really had better figure something out, and fast.

        • 81TinaKane

          Meh, There is 15 teams in front of the Vikings who have given up more sacks, there are 7 teams in front of the Vikings who have given up more QB hits, bottom 3? seattle, Indy, K.C, Tampa all have worse issues then the Vikings, Im not saying the Vikings are good by any stretch, but it could be worse and I don’t think its as bad as other teams. I do hope they reach out to sully since he is still unsigned, I guess time will tell

          • enai D

            The Vikings averaging a miserable league-worst 47 rush yards per game, and their league-worst average per rush is even more appalling: 1.9 yards per rush. The next worst? LA at 2.7. Having more rush yards after contact than net rush yards period vs GB pretty much says all you need to know. They are the worst run-blocking OL in the league right now bar none, and they’ve only been marginally better in pass pro.

    • ANonnaMoose

      The guy has 50 rushing yards in two games, has averaged 1.6 yards/carry, and has contributed pretty much zero to the Vikings being 2-0.

      They’ll be fine.

      • enai D

        Not to mention Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, who filled in admirably in 2014 (Vikings finished 14th in rushing that year) are still AP’s backups. AP missing time hurts, but not as much as people would initially assume, and either way it doesn’t really matter as long as the OL is playing so miserably anyways.

  • wade wilson

    so your saying that the O-line is not even worth a subway sandwhich?

    • crosseyedlemon

      or apparently a good spellchecker.

  • Mel k

    Vikes worst pass blocking line on per drop back basis

  • Paul Doyal

    I understand that the O line play is horrendous and that the ratings for some players are very low and yet the Vikings have found a way to win the game so far! So now with the Vikings going on the road to face the Panthers and Cam newton the O line better show up or it will be a very humbling experience! One that the Packers have now realized and the other teams in that division! I hope that the Vikings can eventually get that O line ready for a run at the playoffs! It would seem to me that the O line for any team does not play perfect and if any player is almost perfect the that player would be of high value! The Vikings have done so much to improve the O line and it would seem that the results are not very good for the effort so far! Zimmer will have to make some changes very soon! New players new coaches and still have the same problem?

  • cka2nd

    If Fusco and Smith continue stinking up the joint, I sure hope that Zimmer will give Zac Kerin and Jeremiah Sirles, respectively, a chance to replace them.

  • cdr164bn

    The eye test says it just as well as the PFF grades. I’m writing this after the Panthers game and that was a defensive explosion in the second half. I agree with you that this team will probably make the playoffs with this Oline but once it runs into Denver or the Patriots, their season will be over. Kinda like last year when they could only generate 9 points while holding a tough Seattle team to 10 points… Good defense but poor offense just won’t get you all the way there. That said..

    I don’t understand why Boone isn’t playing better. Smith was a gamble that doesn’t seem to be paying off. Fusco just hasn’t been good for a long time and now Kalil is out. We are right back where we were last year… We drafted poorly, all we got to help the oline is Willie Beavers. Don’t think he’s gonna make the pro bowl this year.

    Zim said last year he was going to fix the line issue.. The two FA guys he picked up aren’t doing it and he didn’t get any help in the draft. Still waiting for the fix…..