There are many different things that are going to determine the outcome of Sunday's NFC Wild Card game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks. Of all of those factors, the one that proves to be the most important may be the ability of the Vikings to keep Teddy Bridgewater upright.
We know that the Vikings' somewhat-makeshift offensive line has had their problems this season, as they've allowed 45 sacks over the 16 regular season games the team played this season. Out of all the indicators that we can point to for the success of the Vikings this year, their ability to protect their young quarterback has proven to be one of the top indicators.
In the eleven games the Vikings won during the regular season, they allowed just 20 quarterback sacks, an average of less than two per game. In games where the Vikings allow two sacks or less, they're a perfect 7-0.
In Vikings' losses, however, they've allowed Bridgewater to hit the dirt 25 times, a whopping five times per game. They're 4-5 when they allow three sacks or more, and 0-3 when they allow more than five. They allowed four sacks the last time the Vikings and Seahawks met back in Week 13, and according to Pro Football Focus, the blame was spread across pretty much the entire offensive line.
The offensive line had a tough game, as all five starters finished with a negative pass block grade. G Brandon Fusco (-1.7) struggled the most in that regard, allowing a sack, a hit and two hurries en route to a team-low -2.6 pass block grade. T Matt Kalil (-2.5) finished with the lowest overall grade among them, as he allowed two hits and two hurries and was also beaten frequently in the run game. As a unit, the Vikings allowed three sacks, five hits and nine hurries. While nobody else on the offense was able to do anything really positive, the line deserves a lot of blame for poor play yesterday.
(PFF charged one of the four sacks to Bridgewater and the other three to the offensive line, hence the discrepancy.)
Bridgewater has been under pressure more frequently than any other quarterback in the NFL according to PFF, facing pressure on 47.6% of his snaps this season. We've seen numerous breakdowns of Bridgewater's play this season, and while he holds the ball a little longer than he should on occasion, the vast majority of that pressure comes from the ineptitude of his offensive line in pass blocking. If the Vikings are going to knock off the Seahawks and get themselves a rematch against the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional round, they're going to have to get a significantly better performance from the five guys up front than they got the first time around.
With the weather conditions being what they're going to be on Sunday, the emphasis for the Vikings will obviously be on the running game. However, there are going to be times where Bridgewater is going to have to make a throw or two to keep things moving and to keep Seattle honest. We know that the Vikings have gone to more of a short passing game since the last time these two teams played, and even with that being the case, he's not going to be making any throws if he's looking up at the clouds.
Here's hoping that Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger, Mike Harris, and T.J. Clemmings have learned something from the last time these two teams played and can give Bridgewater the time he needs on Sunday. If they don't, they're going to have plenty of time to reflect on it, because the Vikings' season is going to be over.
Leading up to Super Bowl 50, Gillette Fusion ProShield - which features lubrication strips before and after the blades to shield from irritation while you shave - is partnering with select NFL offensive linemen to celebrate the importance of protection. They're calling all current, former and future offensive linemen and coaches - whether you play for fun, as part of an official team, or during your glory days - to submit a dance move that celebrates protection. To see the latest and share your signature dance move for fun perks in the lead-up to Super Bowl 50, check out and use the hashtag #ShieldMove on Twitter.