Vikings' ironman talks injuries, adjustments

Matt Kalil is the only Viking to play every snap on offense or defense this year, but it hasn't been easy or without its struggles. He has played through injuries and struggled at times, and so has the pass protection in general. He and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave addressed the topic.

Matt Kalil is the Vikings' last man standing … for every snap.

Last year, the Vikings had all five of their offensive linemen start every game and three of them were on the field for all 1,035 offensive snaps – Phil Loadholt, John Sullivan and Matt Kalil.

This year, Kalil is the only Viking to have played every snap on offense or defense – all 793 on offense three-quarters of the way through the season. It hasn't been without incident, however.

A back injury caused him to miss two practices leading up to the New York Giants game and limited him again the following week.

"Certain injuries have been kind of lingering that weren't there last year. I wouldn't say it's a factor. I'm not going to make excuses that it's affected the way I play, but I think just after the games and just kind of recovering throughout the whole week, it was something I wasn't dealing with last year. Just things I've got to get cleaned up in the offseason," he said.

He declined to say which injuries are lingering, but he hasn't appeared on the injury report since a back issue kept him out of practices on Oct. 18-19 and limited him on Oct. 23.

"I never bring up my injuries, unless it's something that's prohibiting me from playing, like my back," Kalil said. "I couldn't even walk because my back went out that one week. Other than that, I keep it to myself. I maintain it and do the best I can to recover and rehab and all of that. It's just things during the season, it's going to keep getting banged up in the game so it's hard to heal. It's just one of those things to recover in the offseason and just keep getting stronger."

As a rookie, Kalil made the Pro Bowl, but with three weeks of fan voting left he is nowhere to be found in the top 10 among offensive tackles.

Kalil admitted that he struggled early in the season with "some little injury things," but believes he has played solid the last few weeks.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said he wasn't aware of any injuries that Kalil is still dealing with, but did admit that the 2012 first-round draft pick had a slow start to the season.

"I think he did. I think people were able to study some film on him in the offseason and then he's made the adjustments and adaptations as the games go along," Musgrave said. "We're very confident in him over on the left side. Almost like every corner can get beat in the NFL, every left tackle is ultimately going to get beat at some point in time. I really like his attitude because when he has given up a sack or given up a hit, he hasn't got his dauber down or gone into the tank. He's worked that much harder to get it corrected."

Kalil is second to Xavier Rhodes in Vikings penalties this year, but none of them have been holding. He has three false starts, one illegal use of hands and one ineligible man downfield.

Sacks are even a bigger measure of how an offensive lineman is playing. As a team, the Vikings gave up 32 sacks last year, but through 12 games this year have already surrendered 34, putting them on pace for 45.

More concerning: 11 of those have come in the last two games, against Green Bay and Chicago.

"We started slow, I thought, against Chicago. They got us on a couple games and those are good players – (Stephen) Paea and (Julius) Peppers are good players – and they ran a good game on our left side the first couple third downs," Musgrave said. "We looked at it on the sideline, made some adjustments and then we were very solid the rest of the game. We've had some sacks the last couple games, but a couple of them have been due to coverage or quarterbacks flushing out and not quite getting back to the line of scrimmage."

According to Pro Football Focus, only four of the team's 34 sacks have been credited to Kalil's responsibility, including one against Chicago on Sunday. Peppers was credited was 2½ sacks, but that's a good example of how the Vikings have been getting beat. Teams have been running stunts (or games), where the defensive end will often slide inside and behind the defensive tackle after the snap of the ball. That type of a movement means the linemen need to adjust their blocking responsibilities on the fly.

In the NFL, flaws are exposed and targeted.

"If you ever get got by one of those stunts, you're going to see a steady diet of it and that's what's happened to us a little bit," Musgrave said. "Until we get it fixed, then it will start to evaporate."

This week, the Vikings face a formidable pass-rushing defense.

The Ravens are sixth in sacks per pass play and led by a couple of accomplished sack artists from the linebacker position – Elvis Dumervil, who has 9½ sacks, and Terrell Suggs, who has nine. As a team, the Ravens have 37 sacks.

"They've got a lot of talent on that defense and some of those guys are pretty young. I've watched a lot of film on Dumervil, too, and he's a great pass rusher and especially Suggs. I think they're a pretty loaded defense," Kalil said.

"The guy that stands out is (Haloti) Ngata. He's the kind of guy that if he doesn't want to be blocked, he's not going to be blocked. He can expose some guys. Obviously Suggs is a Pro Bowl-type rusher and he's a great defensive end. I've got my hands full going against him."

The Ravens could try to create some more confusion with their 3-4 defensive alignment, but Kalil said the Vikings are trying to simplify their blocking assignments this week in hopes of cleaning up some of the recent mistakes.

"We're treating it as something else. It's pretty basic to us," Kalil said. "I think our game plan is pretty simple the way we're approaching them. Obviously Suggs and some of the guys they have on there are great pass rushers, so we definitely have our hands full. Ngata is in there, too, so they're still a great defense, defending Super Bowl champions. We've got our hands full, but I think we're going to do well."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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