Once again, our good friend Marshall Faulk has a question that he would like to ask us about the Minnesota Vikings. Well, he's going to ask the other SB Nation blogs the same question about their teams, too, but since there's only one team that we really care about.
So, with that, here's this week's question.
Let’s get professional: Midway through the season, it’s time to assess and adjust. To be GMC Professional Grade, you must be calculated in your approach. What adjustments are needed to make sure you are fighting for a playoff spot?
Well, at 2-5, a playoff spot is going to be a longshot for this team anyway. But in order for this team to get back into contention, there's one major thing that has to happen, and we all know what it is.
The offensive line, whoever the five guys in front of Teddy Bridgewater are, need to do a better job of protecting him.
Through seven games this season. . .and, granted, this is having to block for three different quarterbacks so far. . .the Vikings have allowed 27 sacks. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, another team that's putting a rookie quarterback out there right now, have allowed more (29), and that's a pace for the Vikings to allow 62 total sacks this season. Bridgewater has hit the deck thirteen times in the past two weeks, and that's not a good formula for developing a rookie quarterback. (See also: Carr, David)
I understand that the Vikings have lost a key piece of their offensive line in right guard Brandon Fusco, and that's obviously a huge loss. But every offensive lineman not named John Sullivan has had significant issues this season, and we've been over Matt Kalil's struggles ad nauseum to this point. But the Fusco injury shouldn't be a killer. After all, against a very good Buffalo Bills defensive front this past week, the Vikings put up a very nice game running the football against a team that had been allowing less than 70 yards a game and less than 3 yards/carry on the ground. And that was with two backup offensive linemen in the game, one of which was playing a position that he said after the game he "hadn't even practiced since Pop Warner" in Mike Harris.
If Jerick McKinnon can continue establishing himself as a competent back, it could open up the play-action passing game for the Vikings a bit more, which is a big part of what this offense was supposed to be based on. Many people seem to be of the impression that the drop-off of the offensive line can be attributed to the loss of Adrian Peterson. I'm not entirely sure if that's true, and a series of tweets from our friend Arif kind of speaks to that same thing.
Also, can we stop saying "Peterson covered up for deficiencies in the OL"? That makes no sense. Looking at film alone proves its not true— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) October 22, 2014
I mean sack percentage alone on third and long, MIN was just below 10% 2012-2013. 2014, about 19%.— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) October 22, 2014
2011-2013— Pressure% in games w/ Peterson: 25.7% Pressure% in games w/o Peterson: 21.7% PBE w/ Peterson: 79.8 PBE w/o Peterson: 83.2— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) October 22, 2014
It turns out that when Peterson never appeared in games and opponents knew about it, they got worse at rushing past OLs— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) October 22, 2014
That's not to say that Peterson made the pass-blocking worse, but that he was immaterial because defenses aren't stupid.— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) October 22, 2014
Since it's incredibly unlikely that Peterson is going to be back. . .and that it doesn't appear he had a whole lot of effect in the first place. . .what else can potentially be done?
Well, as much as people hate it, maybe some more designed rollouts need to be a part of the game plan at this point. I know that it cuts off half the field and all of that. . .it also, in many cases, keeps your quarterback from getting his head beaten in and makes it easier to throw the football away if it comes down to that. Throwing in a few more read option type of looks might prove to be helpful as well.
Other than that, it's more or less going to be a matter of guys that should be playing at a high level getting themselves back to that high level, and doing it in short order. John Sullivan and Vladimir Ducasse, two players that missed the majority of the Buffalo game with injuries, should be ready to go on Sunday, per Mike Zimmer's press conference today, which will help things out a bit. But regardless of who it is, whether it's the five guys that seem to be locked in as the starters or guys like Mike Harris and Joe Berger, or even young players like David Yankey or Austin Wentworth, the offensive line needs to do a significantly better job of pass blocking if the Minnesota Vikings want to find themselves playing any more competitive games this season.