Matt Kalil’s struggles from last year appear to be carrying over to at least the start of 2014.
Kalil said during the preseason that his knee injury last year was part of the problem after a Pro Bowl season as a rookie. The left tackle said he gave up five sacks in 2013 and that three or four of them were in the first drive of the game, saying he needed to start faster in games.
But after a solid showing in the regular-season opener, Kalil struggled badly in the home opener Sunday against the New England Patriots. In some ways, it should have been an easier day. There was no opposing crowd creating issues with hearing adjustments made to protections or even dealing with the incessant blitzes that St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator threw the Vikings’ way in the season opener.
The Patriots blitzed much less frequently than the Rams, but Kalil’s matchup against New England defensive end/outside linebacker Chandler Jones didn’t go well at all.
“The guy he went against (Sunday), obviously, he probably went to Canton yesterday,” head coach Mike Zimmer joked on Monday, referring to the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “He had a great game, blocked the field goal and scored the touchdown.”
Kalil appeared to be the one letting Jones slip through the line and block Blair Walsh’s field goal for a pivotal play in the game. Jones took advantage of Kalil’s missed block and then took advantage of a fortuitous bounce of the ball, scooped it up and ran 58 yards for a touchdown.
Instead of trailing 17-14 at the half, Jones’ touchdown with 9 seconds remaining in the first half put the Patriots in command with a 24-7 halftime lead.
But it was more than just that one play that made it a bad day for Kalil, the Vikings’ 2012 first-round pick. The left tackle struggled to hold his pass-protecting blocks on Jones, making a bad performance by quarterback Matt Cassel look even worse.
At the end of the first quarter, Kalil gave up a 3-yard sack by Jones to start the Vikings’ third drive of the game. They recovered from that to gain one first down on a defensive holding call by Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, but three plays later Revis intercepted Cassel, leading to another New England touchdown, giving the Patriots their 17-7 lead. Two drives later, the blocked field goal attempt and return for the touchdown put them up 24-7.
The second drive of the second half ended when the Patriots rushed six and Kalil gave up the edge to linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who sacked Cassel on third-and-8, forcing a punt.
Two drives later, it was another sack by Jones (going against Kalil) that put the Vikings in a third-and-10 situation, despite the Patriots rushing only three defenders. On that occasion, however, Cassel should accept some of the blame, as he had about 4.5 seconds to get rid of the ball and didn’t.
“Matt’s still working on some things. We talked a little bit (Monday) morning, him and I about some stuff,” Zimmer said. “He’s going to have to continue to get better. We have got to get him better. We expect him to get better.”
Last year, the Vikings were 22nd in sacks per pass attempt, giving up a sack on 8.06 percent of their pass plays. That equaled 44 sacks and 546 pass attempts.
They gave up six sacks on Sunday alone.
Kalil and the pass protection were far from the only problems with the Vikings offense. The receivers dropped plenty of passes and Cassel struggled with accuracy and decision-making.
But when a No. 4 overall draft pick is giving up six pressures, according to the analytical web site Pro Football Focus, there will be questions about his performance.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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