Where Have You Gone, Pat Elflein? Vikings Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It may not have the same catchy vibe as “Tank for Trevor”, but given the current state of the roster — and in particular the offensive line — “Stink for Sewell” is very much in play.

For the second straight week the Vikings’ overall o-line play was in the C-/D+ range. With a typical Mike Zimmer defense, that might be enough; with the defense’s current level of play, it’s nowhere close.

Fans who never imagined they’d miss having Pat Elflein on the field were sorely mistaken, as the Dakota Dozier/Dru Samia guard tandem posted a 46.2 pass-blocking grade.

That’s a combined total, by the way. As in Dozier recorded a 25.1, and Samia brought up the rear with a 21.1. That’s no bueno.

The interior struggled mightily with tackle twists, failing to slide off blocks and pick up the looping tackle on multiple occasions — including the second safety sack allowed in as many weeks.

Dating back to last season’s finale, when Mike Boone was tackled in the end zone, the Vikings have given up a safety in an NFL record-tying three straight games.

While Elflein had his solid run-blocking to prop up his overall PFF grade, Samia’s 42.7 mark in the ground game offered little help. For the season, Samia’s marks rank 80th among 82 graded guards. That’s mucho no bueno.

The Good

Okay, deep breath and no more butchered Spanish.

Let’s step back and offer a little positivity. Here are a few things that went right for the Vikings offensive line in Indianapolis:

Remember last week how I bemoaned the lack of the play-action-one-way-bootleg-pass-the-other from the game script? Clearly Gary Kubiak reads the site, because Minnesota’s first two plays were just that. The Vikings also ran more two-tight end sets, which can only help the offensive line. So mark the coaching staff down for an improved performance in Week 2.

On the 10th play of the Vikings’ first drive, Dalvin Cook busted off a 17-yard run thanks to a great downfield block on the linebacker by Dozier, and an excellent seal on the backside linebacker by Samia — though the linebacker helped out a bit by taking a false step before flowing toward the play. It’s hopefully a sign of things to come, but one play out of 53 ain’t gonna cut it.

Brian O’Neill graded out well, especially in the running game (84.8). On a couple plays he did just enough to make the play work, though bottom line, he did enough to make the play work. Two plays of note, both during the second drive of the third quarter: On a tackle pull to the right, O’Neill got just enough of the defensive back to free Cook for a seven-yard gain. Three plays later he held up the defensive end just enough to allow Cook to get the edge on a stretch run right. No pancakes or style points, but both were positive gains.

Finally, on the two-point conversion a Bradbury/Dozier double-team on the nose tackle opened the door for Cook to reach the end zone — though once again the linebacker helped by running away from the point of attack.

The Bad and The Ugly

As for the negative, there was plenty to go around. While Bradbury graded out well in pass protection (77.2), the interior of the line was completely flummoxed by simple tackle twists the Colts ran with frequency. Certainly it’s not all Bradbury’s fault, playing between two inexperienced guards, but if this threesome can’t handle simple tackle twists without allowing a free runner to the quarterback, it’s going to be an extremely long season.

And it wasn’t just twists: Lack of cohesion showed itself elsewhere, be it Dozier not picking up a player Riley Reiff released inside or Dozier and Bradbury pulling and blocking the same defender — and poorly at that. Blame no preseason, but every other team was in the same boat.

The tone for Minnesota’s guard play was unfortunately set on the first play, a play-action right/bootleg left on which both Samia and Dozier were pushed backwards while stretching to the right. In the second quarter on a run left it was a total interior fail: Bradbury was pushed four yards into the backfield, Dozier driven back two yards, and Samia failed to reach the linebacker downfield. The end result was a loss of three.

Finally, Samia did nothing to indicate he should keep his job once Elflein is healthy. Maybe tossing him up against DeForest Buckner in his first start wasn’t fair, but this is a big-boy league and Samia was not up to par on Sunday.

Buckner finished the afternoon with two sacks, two quarterback hits and a hurry while interior lineman Denico Autry added three hurries.

Fortunately, the Vikings line doesn’t have to face Jadeveon Clowney this week.

Remember the Titans

Oh, wait… crap.

Minnesota catches Clowney coming off a game in which he hurried Gardner Minshew four times. Clowney is sackless in two previous meetings with Minnesota, recording a hit and a hurry last year in Week 13 when he was in Seattle.

And Clowney isn’t the only member of the Titans’ defensive line the Vikings need to concern themselves with. Edge Harold Landry III recorded two QB hits against the Broncos and grades out well as a run-stopper, while on the interior Jeffery Simmons posted a pair of hurries against the Jaguars.

Tennessee’s top three graded pass rushers per PFF are defensive backs, which means the line will need to keep an eye out for blitzes and adjust assignments accordingly. That hasn’t exactly been a forte of their play through the first two games.

So, “Stink for Sewell”; who’s with me? What, you’re not familiar with Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, last year’s Outland Trophy winner and co-Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year? Keep Ezra Cleveland inside and field a line with four picks from the first two rounds. Heck, grab Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis or Tennessee’s Trey Smith in the second round and maybe the Vikings’ O-line can become a source of strength. When’s the last time you could say that about the Purple?

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