In need of a pick-me-up after the Vikings’ most recent late-game collapse, I flipped on “Old Yeller” to lift my spirits Sunday night. And then when I realized I’d get to watch the game again to take offensive line notes for this article, I made it a double feature with “Marley and Me.”
Post-game talk about the Vikings’ uncanny ability to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory centered around Mike Zimmer’s decision to eschew a field goal and an eight-point lead, instead attempting to convert a fourth-and-inches from the Seattle six-yard line in hopes of keeping 2020 NFL MVP Russell Wilson off the field.
The play has been analyzed more than the Sopranos finale, but I have a few thoughts from an on-line perspective to add to the discussion.
- The numbers seem to say running right, behind Dru Samia and his season-best 52.9 PFF run-blocking score, was the correct analytical call — but the vibe I got watching the game tells me different. That the Vikings overloaded the right side on the play also puzzled me. Ultimately, I would have looked to see where K.J. Wright was lined up and then gone the other way; the dude was making plays all night long.
- It’s tough to point the finger at any individual block. C.J. Ham fought his linebacker to a stalemate in the hole, as did Brian O’Neill with his matchup. However, you would like to see the offensive line get a much better push on a fourth-and-inches play. Riley Reiff, on the opposite end of the line from the action, was the only Vikings lineman who finished the play on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
- A healthy Dalvin Cook, with his unique ability and innate feel for the game, makes that cut and bounces outside Ham and into that wide-open hole for at least the necessary yardage. No knock on Alexander Mattison, Cook is just special.
While it’s easy to single out this play as the deciding factor in the loss, the point is moot if one snap earlier Reiff stays with his block on the third-down reverse to Adam Thielen. Reiff is on the opposite side of the field from the play, but if he gives Damontre Moore a second shove to slow him up even a little bit, Moore isn’t able to come all the way across the field at full speed to square up Thielen right at the down marker and keep him from falling forward an extra six inches.
Maintaining blocks continues to be an issue for the Vikings, rearing its head to bite the Vikings in the backside at the most inopportune times.
Add it to the growing list of coulda-woulda-shouldas for a 1-4 team with two one-point losses to undefeated clubs. One thing we can all agree on is that an upgrade to the current sub-par offensive line play would go a long way towards flipping that record. And most of the finger-pointing is directed at the right guard.
LET’S TALK ABOUT DRU
Vikings Nation has been all over Samia, most notably on Twitter where Luke Braun‘s 33-second compilation of some of Samia’s biggest whiffs from Sunday night was at 36.5K views and counting as of Wednesday morning. That’s what the kids call “going viral.”
Hey, if this is the game that sent you over the edge on Samia, then you haven’t been paying attention.
As noted earlier, PFF gave Samia his highest run-blocking grade of the year for Sunday night’s effort, 52.9. That lifts his year-long grade to 40.9, 100th out of 102 graded guards. Samia also boosted his pass-protection grade, with Sunday night’s 31.5 pulling his year-long mark up to 20.8 — dead-dog last among 95 graded guards.
Plus there were a couple tantalizing positive reps that suggest what the Vikings see in Samia — and what might be someday. But two or three reps in almost 90 offensive snaps isn’t going to cut it.
Samia is quickly entering T.J. Clemmings territory: a lineman who looked to be a value on draft day, prematurely pushed into the lineup where he is quickly becoming the lightning rod for his unit’s struggles.
It’s become abundantly clear the past two weeks that defenses are loading up against Samia, with whatever defensive tackle he faces destined for greatness. Unless and until the Vikings make a move, that’s going to continue; next up, Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett.
Alternatives? Minnesota could turn to second-round pick Ezra Cleveland, though he worked at left guard during the preseason so either he or Dakota Dozier would need to slide to the other side of Garrett Bradbury. With recent talk that Rashod Hill is the heir apparent to Reiff at left tackle, it only makes sense for the Vikings to find an interior spot for Cleveland — unless they don’t plan on re-upping O’Neill.
There’s also a chance Pat Elflein, eligible to come off the IR, could return from his thumb injury — though it doesn’t sound as if that will be happening any time soon. Who would have thought we’d be pining for Elflein?
Maybe the Vikings wait until after their Week 7 bye to make a move, in which case find you a sports book that will give you Player of the Week odds on Jarrett.
HOLD ME NOW
Maybe it’s a technique the team coaches, maybe it’s just this old-school lineman not understanding how the game is played today, or maybe it’s the time-honored tradition of linemen trying to get away with as much as humanly possible. After all, it’s only a penalty if you get flagged for it. But one disconcerting trend really showed up in the Seattle film this week: Minnesota’s offensive linemen are hugging like reunited cousins at a pre-pandemic family reunion.
And this week it was getting called — not all the time, as I have multiple notations of Vikings linemen getting away with holds, but enough to negate some positive gains.
The rule of thumb is to keep your hands inside the defender’s frame. But Vikings’ linemen are consistently grabbing triceps as if they’re gearing up for an epic Godfather Part II-esque Michael-on-Fredo hug. You might get away with that inside, obscured by a scrum of large bodies, but if you’re on the edge — and especially if you exert enough force to turn the defender’s shoulders — you’re going to get flagged. Ask O’Neill, who did just that with exactly those consequences on Minnesota’s ill-fated fourth-quarter drive inside the 10-yard line.
The worst thing is, once a player — or a team — get a “handsy” reputation, officials are more inclined to tag them with a flag. Minnesota’s linemen need to get a handle (pun intended) on this now before it develops into an even bigger problem down the road.
NEXT UP: FALCONS
If there’s a team that’s underachieving at a level the Vikings can relate to, it’s the Falcons. Atlanta just dismissed head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, though Minnesota shouldn’t expect the Falcons to present anything dramatically different from what we’ve seen so far.
That means a mediocre run defense (PFF grades them a 52.0 overall, 21st in the league) and a mediocre pass rush (18th with a 65.2 grade). Jarrett will provide the biggest problem for the Vikings, not just because he’ll be going up against Minnesota’s struggling interior, but because he’s a solid player in his own right. Jarrett’s 69.0 run-stopping grade ranks 43rd among 170 graded interior defenders and his 77.0 pass-rush grade ranks 15th. By comparison, Minnesota’s top-ranked DI is Shamar Stephen with marks of 64.3 against the run and 57.2 rushing the passer.
The remainder of Atlanta’s defensive front is relatively nondescript, with edge Dante Fowler (15 pressures) and interior John Cominsky (10) joining Jarrett as the only Falcons with double-digit pressures. As matchups go, it’s a winnable one for the Vikings’ o-line — even without Cook… and even with Samia.