What Will Minnesota's O-Line Look Like In the Playoffs?

Photo Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings didn’t just lose to the Green Bay Packers. They also ended the game with a diminished offensive line. Brian O’Neill and Austin Schlottmann left early with season-ending injuries.

O’Neill tore his Achilles tendon while Darnell Savage was running back an interception. Initially, fans hoped he could return for the playoffs. However, the Vikings have placed him on IR. The best-case scenario is that he can return in time for the start of next season. Schlottmann was starting in place of the injured Garett Bradbury. He suffered a broken fibula and will also require surgery, sending him to IR.

Because of these injuries, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed two free-agent linemen to replace them. Greg Mancz is a center who has spent time with the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, and, most recently, Cleveland Browns. Adofo-Mensah also brought in Bobby Evans, who the Los Angeles Rams recently released.

Mancz is the more important of these two signings. With both Bradbury and Schlottmann out, Chris Reed, a backup guard, had the responsibility of playing center. Unfortunately, as we saw Sunday, that can lead to communication errors and, in turn, penalties.

Luckily, Mancz has plenty of experience at the position, having started 32 games in the NFL. Unfortunately, it has been a while since he’s played consistently. He last played an entire season in 2016 with the Houston Texans. But the hope is that he will serve as a backup to Bradbury, who is on track to return from injury in time for the playoffs.

As for Evans, his role will be much more limited. With veteran backup tackles Oli Udoh and Blake Brandel on the roster, Evans should be more of a security blanket than anything else. However, with so many unknowns still at play, it will be interesting to see how Minnesota’s O-line looks this week against the Chicago Bears.

With Bradbury still unable to practice, we could see Mancz get the start at center this week. The Bears’ defensive line has produced the fewest sacks in the NFL this season, with 20. Giving Mancz game reps to knock the rust off is of the utmost importance, and who better to do it against than Chicago’s weak front?

Additionally, keep a close eye on Udoh’s play. He played surprisingly well in the 45 snaps he took last week in O’Neill’s absence. According to PFF, he only surrendered one pressure on 32 pass-blocking plays.

Udoh’s leap may have resulted from his change of position from right guard to right tackle. He has only played RT in two games of his 40-game career. Yet, in those two games, he has recorded pass-blocking grades of 79.7 and 74.0 from PFF. If Udoh can continue this run of form at the position, it may soften the blow of losing O’Neill.

Look for Udoh to get all of the reps at RT in Chicago as the Vikings try to build continuity along this banged-up line.

As for how this unit could look in the wild-card round of the playoffs, it’s not too complicated. Assuming Bradbury gets healthy, it will be the same unit that started the season, but with Udoh in for O’Neill.

It’s not time yet to hit the panic button about the state of this offensive line, which has held up far better than in years past. Whenever a player like O’Neill goes down, it’s hard to see anything like a silver lining. But if Udoh can continue his strong play at RT,  they may be only slightly diminished.

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