“First off, I know how this headline looks. The Vikings, the NFL’s last unbeaten team, are unbeaten no more. Thus, Joe Knee-Jerk, of the Professional Knee-Jerk Association (or “media,” as some call it) writes that, now, they stink,” Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit pens in his latest column for SI’s MMQB.com.
“But that’s not what this is. Or, not exactly, anyway. The Vikings are a legitimate 5-1 club. They’re not to be written off. But they’re also a legitimate 5-1 club with a legitimate problem.”
That problem is, of course, their offensive line. This is obvious to anyone who watched the game last Sunday, but this goes beyond the typical troll-job of a franchise whose fans are crushed on a regular basis. Benoit has a point: the offensive line is bad, and that’s a big weakness.
“Last Friday, as the Vikings headed into their bye week, I wrote in my All-32 column that there was a silver lining to Adrian Peterson’s absence: This offense has an opportunity to develop a more stylistically diverse rushing attack,” he writes. “Peterson is an all time great, but as an inherently impatient runner he’s largely confined to straight-ahead carries. You don’t see many outside or misdirection runs with him. All things equal, you’d take AP over Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata a dozen times out of 12. But if you’re stuck with McKinnon and Asiata, at least you can run more out of shotgun and to the perimeter (mainly with McKinnon).
“Except here’s Part B of that equation: The Vikings ran mostly north-south to accommodate not only Peterson, but their offensive line as well. This front five is not athletic enough to consistently reach the perimeter, get out in space or land blocks on the move. That’s why [Norv] Turner’s ground game, even in Peterson’s absence, still mostly runs behind old-fashioned plow-ahead, double-team blocks.”
Well, that explains a lot. Benoit adds that Minnesota would be smart to add a quick-pass scheme to emphasize the weapons that the Vikings have, namely fast, yards-after-the-catch type receivers like Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Jarius Wright, etc. Jerick McKinnon could help in that department too.
“With a dominant defense, you’re wise to play the field position game and, paradoxically, try to sustain drives to keep that defense off the field,” he writes. “This in mind, Minnesota’s best option might be a quick-strike passing game. But that’s not how Turner’s system is built. If they’d known during the offseason that Peterson would be gone and Bradford would be the one under center, perhaps Turner and Mike Zimmer would have spent time installing more quick-strike concepts.
“But what they’ve practiced are the things that have long defined Turner: deep-intermediate route combinations; play-action; field-stretching shots to wide receivers, both vertically and horizontally; red zone plays for tight ends. The majority of these rely on deeper dropbacks—something Minnesota’s O-line isn’t capable of protecting.”
Benoit has a lot to offer, as his analysis is in-depth and not necessarily doomsday rhetoric, so it’s worth the read. As he wrote in his intro, the Vikings are a legitimate 5-1 team, but the hopes of a 13-3 or 14-2 season, Super Bowl, etc. begin to fade if Minnesota cannot protect Bradford, no matter how good their defense is.[Sports Illustrated]