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The Vikings’ Biggest Surprise? Yes, It’s The Offensive Line

The unit needed to improve, and at least through one game, they definitely have.

San Francisco 49ers v Minnesota Vikings
Led by Pat Elflein, the Vikings’ offensive line blew away expectations in the season opener
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Last year, to be blunt, the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line was a disaster. They were a tire fire that was inside of a dumpster, and the dumpster was also on fire, and the fire had ignited the apartment of that dog in the meme that is sipping his cup of coffee and insisting that everything is fine.

I’m not exaggerating. It was that bad.

Because of a mixture of injuries and just general incompetence, the 2016 Vikings’ offensive line was one of the worst in team history. They generated no push in the running game, and they gave Sam Bradford no time to do anything of significance in the passing game. Those two things combined to leave the team unable to sustain drives, and a tired defense eventually fell apart, causing a 5-0 start to turn into an 8-8 finish.

So, the Vikings made moves this offseason to remedy those issues.

  • They signed former Detroit Lions’ offensive tackle Riley Reiff to protect Bradford’s blind side.
  • They signed former Carolina Panther (and Viking) Mike Remmers to hold down the right tackle spot.
  • They drafted a pair of promising prospects in center Pat Elflein (third round) and guard Danny Isidora (fifth round).
  • Then, most surprisingly, they made guard Alex Boone a part of their final cuts, moving last year’s starting center, Nick Easton, into the left guard spot.

The only player that remained from the previous year’s offensive line disaster was Joe Berger, and he was playing a different position, moving to right guard after starting the previous two seasons at center. With Reiff missing two of three preseason contests (he likely wouldn’t have played in the fourth), the Vikings didn’t have a whole lot of time to build chemistry between the five players that would, ultimately, form their starting unit.

For at least one week, however, that didn’t seem to matter.

Bradford, who spent much of last season running for his life, found clean, solid pockets to set up in. He still maintained his insanely high completion rate, but rather than dinking and dunking his way down the field, he was firing bullets into the heart of the New Orleans secondary. The Vikings had eight pass plays that covered at least 20 yards, and Bradford wound up averaging nearly 11 yards per attempt, a far cry from what this offense did last season.

When the Saints’ defense started wearing down in the second half, rookie running back Dalvin Cook started finding room to run. In the second half alone, Cook rushed for 105 yards on 14 carries, including a pair of 30-plus yard runs. The 2016 Vikings had six runs of 20 or more yards all season, and only one over 30. . .and that one didn’t come until Week 17.

All in all, it was a huge improvement from what we saw from a Vikings’ offensive line that would have struggled against Big Ten defenses in 2016. If they can get their level of play to just around “average” on a regular basis, the Vikings are a playoff contender. If they can perform they way they did on Monday night, the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender.

Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, and Mike Remmers might not be household names at this point. But, at least for one week, they provided the biggest surprise not just for the Minnesota Vikings, but one of the biggest surprises in the National Football League.