The Vikings Can't Compete If They Can't Fix the Lines of Scrimmage

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk Cousins fumbling on blindside sacks. Running game abandoned minutes into the night. Defensive line on roller skates as the Philadelphia Eagles’ running game grinds our hope of a potential comeback to a screeching halt.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

We’ve seen this show before. And frankly, whoever is scripting the NFL games may as well have just plagiarized last season’s Philly disaster. They were nice enough to change a few lines and give Minnesota brief glimmers of hope this time around, but ultimately it was inconsequential. The Eagles were men among boys tonight where it counted.

If the Vikings want to be taken seriously, they have to improve on the lines of scrimmage.

And, to their credit, this was a daunting task tonight. The Eagles are stacked with one of the best young defensive lines in football. Josh Sweat, Fletcher Cox, Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick, and Nolan Smith. That isn’t just me spouting names off at you; that’s a list seven-deep of guys who would start in Minnesota. Philadelphia’s defensive front just comes at you with wave after wave of high-end talent that’s rotated enough to maintain 60 minutes of fresh legs.

That was a tall task for even the best offensive lines in the league, much less the average-at-best unit in Minnesota. And that “at best” unit was incomplete from the get-go. They were down two starters entering Thursday night with Christian Darrisaw and Garrett Bradbury out. Throw in losing replacement left tackle Oli Udoh entering the fourth quarter, and things got pretty grim. The fact that this ended as a one-score game feels like nothing short of a miracle.

But for miracles to happen, everything else has to come together. You can’t have players dropping easy completions or fumbling out of the end zone. You can’t have a whopping four turnovers. And, at least every now and then, you need the front seven to plug the gaping lanes for the Eagles’ rushing attack.

But that never happened. I feel like D’Andre Swift is still running for first downs. As poor as this Vikings offensive line played, the defensive line is nearly as culpable.

Granted, it’s against another stout segment for the Eagles. Philadelphia’s offensive line is also dominant. Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson are among the best in the league at their position, and young talent like Landon Dickerson also played exceptionally well. Swift and Boston Scott ran free, and the Jalen Hurts “Tush Push” remained the most unstoppable short-yardage play in the history of the sport.

And I thought the defense did its best tonight. They played with energy and even had Hurts confused for stretches with their muddled looks and chaotic pre-snap disguises. Brian Flores is clearly working hard for his money, emptying his bag of every creative blitz package he can muster. But none of it matters if this team is going to continue to get blown off the ball in the running game. The Eagles rushed for 259 yards tonight on 48 carries and 5.4 yards per carry. That’s steamrolling.

Meanwhile, Minnesota ran for 28 yards. Their entire offseason has been built around reimagining this running game, and they had no choice but to abandon it almost immediately. Partially because of the score deficit, but the Vikings couldn’t run even when it was close. They saw the brick wall in front of them, and they knew they had no chance banging their heads into it.

We should commend Cousins and Minnesota’s offense for clawing their way back into this game. But make no mistake, the gap between these two teams was far greater than six points and four inexplicable turnovers. This Vikings’ offense was lucky that Philadelphia got caught playing with their food in the second half, and they took advantage of soft coverage and lackadaisical play to raise an eyebrow in the fourth quarter.

But even if you take Minnesota’s four turnovers off the board, the talent differential was massive. And if they’d been given a reason to stay engaged for the full 60 minutes, Philadelphia still likely dominates the Vikings up front in a way that’s insurmountable. The mismatch was simply too much to overcome.

For all the shiny skill talent on this roster, the Vikings need to invest up front if they ever want to take the next step.

This may have been the toughest test up front that Minnesota will see all season, and Vikings fans may feel buoyed by how close it seemed at times. But if this team has any dreams of holding their own with NFC superpowers like Philadelphia or the San Francisco 49ers, they need to get a lot cleaner, stronger, and tougher up front. And they need to do it quickly.

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