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Vikings OL Play: Week 1, Part 1

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In the first of two articles posted today, I take a look at the performance of the left side of Minnesota’s offensive line in the win against the Falcons last Sunday.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

I’m writing this article based a lot on the reaction to my comment to Warren’s article about a week ago about how Pat Elflein did during the preseason. I’m not sure how/if this article will change throughout the season, but I’m hoping that it can be a weekly thing for me to give people better insight as to how our starting five offensive linemen are doing on a week-to-week basis.

In this inaugural article, I’ll start by going from left to right, mostly because the veteran starter along the offensive line resides at left tackle.

If you’d like, I’m thinking I’ll make my charting for each player available as a link that can be viewed on Excel or some other spreadsheet location.

Riley Reiff

Just due to the general time constraints involved in writing an article like this on a weekly basis, I’m going to avoid charting plays on an individual basis. It will also greatly decrease the length of these articles, which I’m sure everyone also appreciates.

I will, however, talk about each of the starters’ play from quarter to quarter.

Quarter One: Only 11 plays for the Vikings starters in Q1, which is good to see when it comes with a 14-0 lead after the quarter is done. In my current plus/neutral/negative charting system, I had Reiff down for seven plus reps, three neutral reps and one negative rep. That system is based entirely around the players’ individual effort on the play, not whether the play in and of itself was successful. I might eventually add that into the charting system, but for now, I’ll just be looking at individual work. By far his worst rep of the quarter was also likely the worst rep of most of the rest of the line, that play that was initially ruled a fumble but was challenged by Zimmer and overturned into an incomplete pass.

I thought Reiff had an okay quarter one, even with the seven positive reps, mostly because I thought he could have held his blocks for another second or two (entirely legally) and made sure that his man would be farther out of the play than they ended up being. His third play (the TD to Thielen) was my favorite rep of his because he had to deal with a monster power rush from his assignment (I’m likely not going to be 100 percent on naming who exactly everyone is going up against, but I’ll try and include it where I can) and he stoned it cold. He ended up close to Cousins, but his man was on a knee on the turf and he was locked up tight.

Quarter Two: Now, Reiff took a flag on the very first play of the quarter, but it was so close to being a positive rep for him. Deion Jones just was who he was on the play and closed on the play so quickly that all Reiff could do to save it from being a negative play was to block him as he was going by.

Much larger sample from this quarter; 19 snaps compared to 11 from the first. I had the breakdown as 11/6/2, with his other negative rep being on one of the low-yardage runs by Cook during their long drive in the quarter; had someone else’s assignment not stuck Cook at the line, Reiff’s had gotten him off-balance enough that they would have been able to make the tackle immediately.

Did a better job of holding his blocks in this quarter, which I appreciated, and he pretty much did what he was asked to do.

Quarter Three: Had a pretty good third quarter, with the Vikings having just 12 snaps on offense. His worst was the second snap of the quarter for the Vikings, where Kirk was strip-sacked by a different rusher but probably would have also been taken down by Reiff’s man had he held on to the ball another second.

I had him charted for eight positive plays, two neutral plays (one where he had initial success but then had his man help make the stop and the other where Kirk ran a QB sneak and Reiff didn’t really have to do anything to make the play successful), and two negative plays.

Quarter Four: The quietest of all the quarters for the Vikings offense, as they charted just nine total non-kneeldown snaps in the quarter. Reiff had six good plays and three bad ones.

His blocking assignments and techniques were pretty different from what was asked of him in the other few quarters, and I wonder how much they’ll come into play during games where the Vikings aren’t dominating.

OVERALL REIFF SUMMARY: I had Reiff charted as having 32 positive reps, 11 neutral reps, and eight negative reps. Not a bad day, but I think he can do better than what he showed here. He showed the ability in the second half to lock onto and sustain his blocks longer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was addressed in a huddle or something between the final first half drive and the first drive of the second half. Reiff was just okay on the move in blocking laterally for runs, but he sells play-action well and it was noticeable that despite the fact the Vikings regularly had a tight end lining up on his side, he rarely got help from the linebacker in his blocks. Always a good sign when you can leave your left tackle on an island for most of the day and not worry too much about him.

(Reiff charting)

Pat Elflein

Ahh, the whipping boy of the hour. I’m very interested to see how Elf and our newest starting offensive lineman do in back-to-back charting sessions. Should be fun!

Quarter One: Not a great first quarter from Elf, though I will say that the guard blocking schemes do involve a little more nuance than the tackle blocking schemes do, so that might also play into whether a play is considered to be a positive or a negative.

Elf actually faced Allen Bailey, Atlanta’s left defensive end, a number of times in this quarter, and had the advantage in the good play/bad play ratio when taking on Bailey.

His overall good play/neutral play/bad play split was 4/4/3, though again, some of the neutrals are marked that way because I don’t 100 percent know the blocking calls on that particular play.

Penalty-wise, Elf was clear this quarter, but only just barely. He probably could have been called for an illegal block on the Vikings’ first offensive play (which already had a Rudy holding penalty) and definitely committed an uncalled false start on the first play of the second drive.

This quarter emphasizes what I saw in Elf’s game in the preseason: he’s a battler. He does lose his reps more often than I’d like, but it’s not for lack of trying. He’s regularly blocking his man with everything he’s got on every play.

Quarter Two: So there was good news and bad news in this quarter for Elf, and I’ll go with the bad news because I’m sure it’s what everyone is expecting to hear by now about his game.

On two of the first six plays the Vikings ran in the 2nd quarter, Elf was absolutely destroyed by Grady Jarrett. He was fully responsible for the demise of the two plays. Full credit to Jarrett on the first play; he diagnosed the hell out of the play immediately and just knocked aside Elf’s attempt to block him and make a run game stop. The second one was one of the better swim (or rip and tear, depending on how you view defensive tackle attacks and their counters) moves that Elf will see this season.

HOWEVER. I had Elf charted down for 11 successful reps out of the 19 in the quarter, as well as four neutral snaps, leaving just two non-Jarrett related below-average plays for Elf in the quarter. In fact, after the second Jarrett play, Elf had nine good reps, three neutral, and just one bad. Nice recovery, and his play during that stretch is what I’m sure the coaches are hoping to see out of him more often.

Quarter Three: Going by the splits, the third quarter was the best yet for Elf. He had just one negative play, and that was on a play where Jarrett ran a rush towards Reiff and I’m guessing that Elf was expecting Jarrett’s rush to come to his right and towards the inside of the MN OL.

There was one other play that I marked as neutral because it was more Jarrett just again being the stud he is and diagnosing the play so quickly that Elf literally couldn’t get to the spot he needed to be quickly enough to prevent the play from being blown up.

This was also a bit of a weird quarter for Elf because on a number of occasions, the Falcons pass rush was set up in such a way that Elf was literally blocking nobody. But in what I consider to be an improvement, on the first play that happened, he kept his head on a swivel then went to help Reiff with his block, then moved towards the play and tried to push the pile in the case of the second rep.

But again, this was a generally pretty good quarter for Elf, with a 7/4/1 split in play qualities.

Quarter Four: The fourth quarter was actually very good to Elflein. I didn’t have him as responsible for a single negative snap out of the nine the Vikings took that quarter, and he was singlehandedly behind at least three or four different plays by the Vikings going from low-gain yardage to medium-gain yardage.

The closest he came to a negative play in the quarter was when he got out in space and was trying to block Takk McKinley on one particular play. McKinley was able to make the stop, which I would usually mark as a loss for the player, but Mattison also ran directly towards McKinley and Elf while they were engaged in their block and I put at least 40 percent of the play dying on the rookie, which moved it from a negative play by Elf into a neutral play.

OVERALL ELFLEIN SUMMARY:

He got his ass handed to him something like three or four different times by Grady Jarrett, which will happen to a number of NFL guards this season, but otherwise held his own or, especially in the second half, made his presence known in the run game in particular.

His overall play division was 27/16/8, so he had fewer fully positive reps, but also had more “I want to know what the blocking scheme was for the play” moments than Reiff did.

I’m hoping that Elf is fully healthy for Sunday’s game against the Packers, because while I haven’t taken a look at what Dakota Dozier did in the preseason for us, I have to imagine the chemistry the OL would have with Elf on the field instead of off it would be very helpful.

(Elflein charting)

So this went longer than I thought it would, so instead of subjecting your minds to another couple thousand words on the other three players on the line in this article, I figured I’d turn this into a two-part thing. Keep an eye out, I’m going to try my hardest to have the other three finished before I go to bed again!