Going into the 2017 offseason, we all knew that the Minnesota Vikings needed to do a complete revamp of their offensive line. The five-man unit that the purple put out on the field in 2016 was awful by just about any measure, whether it was giving quarterback Sam Bradford zero time to throw or “leading” one of the worst rushing attacks in the history of the franchise.
So, the team spent money in free agency, they invested draft capital, they made a surprising move in their final cuts. And I’ll be damned. . .this team might actually have something here. The collection of Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, and Mike Remmers gave the Vikings something they didn’t have during the entirety of the 2016 season.
The opportunity to look like an NFL offense.
There were people that weren’t thrilled with the Reiff signing, and particularly the money that was given to a player that was, largely, viewed as an average player. However, after 14 games of T.J. Clemmings at left tackle in 2016, Reiff didn’t have to be spectacular to be an upgrade. But, on Monday night, he was pretty damn good.
New Viking LT Riley Reiff:— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) September 12, 2017
35 Pass Block Snaps
0 Sacks Allowed
0 Hits Allowed
0 Hurries Allowed
Elflein might have been just as impressive. The Vikings thought enough of him to give him the start at center, making him the first rookie center to start a season opener for the Vikings since Mick Tingelhoff.
Mick. . .freaking. . .Tingelhoff. Back in 1962. The Vikings hadn’t started a rookie at center in a season opener in fifty-five years. But Elflein started tonight, and was immediately making an impression.
And what was the result of all these changes and all these new faces?
On Monday night, Sam Bradford got hit exactly twice. He was sacked once. And he did not spend a completely ridiculous amount of time running for his life. And honestly, I don’t want to hear “Well, it was only the Saints defense” or “the Saints’ defense is awful.” How many defensive lines did the Vikings make look like absolute superstars last season? Pretty much every single one they faced.
Given the peace of mind that he actually might not get murdered on any given snap, Bradford still completed 84.4% of his passes. Only in this game, he averaged 10.8 yards per attempt rather than struggling to reach 7 yards/attempt like he was last season.
Dalvin Cook reaped the benefits, too. After Bradford had shredded the New Orleans defense a few times, it gave Cook the opportunity to start ripping off big chunks of yardage. At halftime, Cook had eight carries for just 22 yards. By the time the team hit the victory formation, he had set a Vikings’ record for rushing yards for a back in their first game as a Viking, ending the night with 127 yards on 22 carries. In the second half, Cook averaged 7.5 yards/carry. That’s pretty good.
But it all started with Reiff, Easton, Elflein, Berger, and Remmers. Were there hiccups? Sure. Will there continue to be hiccups? I’m guessing there will be.
However, it’s pretty amazing what can happen when a team has five guys on the offensive line who are, at a minimum, at least freaking competent at their jobs. That’s something that this offense didn’t have at any point last season, and it showed.
It appears that they have it now, though. Here’s hoping that we continue to see that going forward as well.