We are all frustrated with the offensive line. After Sunday’s grotesque display of incompetence that overshadowed everyone else’s bad days on offense, we all have a bitter taste in our mouths. Rashod Hill, in particular, struggled mightily. Oli Udoh had his own host of issues. Nobody on the offensive line is without blame. The natural next thought is to ask why Klint Kubiak didn’t offer more help to a clearly outmatched O-line? The Cleveland Browns defensive line is notorious. Why can’t they get the help they need?
The answer might be more horrifying than the question. Up and down the game, the Minnesota Vikings offered chips, extra blockers, shotgun alignments, quick passes, and more to help the offensive line. None of it was enough. Looking ahead to future games against elite defensive linemen like Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, the Vikings can’t do any more than they did in this game. If you have a defensive line like Cleveland’s, the Vikings may just be doomed to suffer a 55% pressure rate.
So what can an offensive coordinator do to help his struggling line? He could direct the center to slide the protection that way more often. He could line up in shotgun more often, giving the quarterback that much more of a head start. There are always chips or extra players blocking in earnest. Kubiak could use quick-game or timing-based three-step dropbacks. Kubiak deployed every single one of these tricks, only for passes to fall incomplete due to pressure anyways.
If the line further struggles, these options have to work. Rashod Hill, or whoever plays at tackle, needs to be able to at least win the reps he has help on. But he still lost. Don’t believe me? That’s natural. It sure didn’t feel like the Vikings were helping the line out much. Allow me to demonstrate.
As we detailed last week, Garrett Bradbury has the responsibility to organize the Vikings’ protections. Part of his decision is where to place the “wall” of the protection, or the portion where offensive linemen can cover each other. When given the option, Bradbury set those protections toward Hill’s side. That can help Hill set up his pass protection more aggressively. Unfortunately, the Browns were prepared for this, as it’s usually the first card you play to help a struggling tackle.
The Browns did a great job of forcing the Vikings to call protections away from Hill. That’s something a future team can possibly replicate if they have an edge rusher who can exploit Hill like, say, Joey Bosa or Khalil Mack. Even when the Vikings could help Hill with the protections, his inside helper, Ezra Cleveland, made his own share of mistakes.
If a player is struggling like Hill did, you can ask your skill players to chip that guy’s assignment. That means you throw a shoulder or an arm into the defensive lineman (or whoever) on your way to running a route and knock them off of their momentum to make things easier on the lineman. This isn’t without cost. It takes time and limits the depth that that player can run to. You can’t run a vertical route and chip at the same time, so it pins one of your players to the flat, and limits the playbook.
Chips aren’t an automatic solve to a pressure-heavy game. There are no automatic solves. The chip has to be physical enough to affect the pass rusher’s momentum. The lineman receiving the help can still mess up badly enough to render it moot. Chips aren’t the most extreme option. They’re a bit of a compromise between helping the lineman, but still having all of your skill players participate in the passing concept.
So the compromise wasn’t enough. In that case, no more half-measures. Instead of a paltry chip, let’s just fully commit some skill players to help in pass protection. Sure, we’ll have to take a player or two out of the route concept, but that simply places more weight on an elite player like Justin Jefferson. Leveraging that skill to paper over your weak spots is what in-game adjusting is all about. So did the Vikings use extra blockers? Of course, constantly. Did it work? I have more bad news.
Extra blockers are worthless if those blockers mess up too. And Hill in particular still found a way to be the main loser with a three-on-one advantage. At this point, it’s clear that Kubiak was out of options and had to go nuclear. If Myles Garrett is unblockable, and there’s nothing you can do about that, you have to adapt the offense. So, did Kubiak do that? Of course. Did it work? I bet you have a guess.
During the peak years of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, teams would resort to quick passes to mitigate their pressure. Slants, screens, and other quick, timing-based concepts would ease the pressure caused by someone elite across from you. Kubiak called a quick pass on the first play of the game with can’t-miss cut blocks, so he anticipated some trouble. By the end of the game, it’s all his offensive line could get away with. There are even hot reads to punish a blitz. Every single facet of this failed as well.
Problem is, receivers have to win on those slants, and screens can get blown up. The Browns rushed four with clever stunts to manipulate protections. If the offensive line isn’t getting the job done on its own, you can deploy skill players in a number of ways to help. But that requires asking those skill players to, well, perform a duty. If they perform that duty poorly, you don’t even get what you spent a skill player on.
Short of marching onto the field and blocking Garrett himself, there isn’t a single thing Kubiak could have done in this game that he didn’t try to alleviate the issue. It may not feel like Kubiak made adjustments, but that’s because the adjustments failed. When they failed, he turned to new adjustments, and those failed too. Coaches can only prepare so many features for their plays, and they can only ask the players to do what they are prepared to do. Eventually, you run out of cards to play.
There may be some critiques of Kubiak in terms of the way he called the run game when Dalvin Cook was out, and you could nitpick this concept or that. But in terms of slowing down Garrett, he tried everything. He can lead an offense to water, but he can’t make that offense block Myles Garrett.
Kubiak is at the end of his rope. He’s spending as much schematic capital as he possibly can to help Hill. The only move from here is the hook. Hill must be benched the second Christian Darrisaw is comfortable enough in the offense to be viable. Anything less than that is malpractice. Hill isn’t just costing the Vikings plays, he’s ripping entire chunks out of the playbook because he can’t block for them. Lots of teams go up against Garrett. Only the Vikings allowed him to do this. That bodes poorly for a team with Joey Bosa, Aaron Donald, and Khalil Mack twice left on its schedule.