Film study: Kalil’s roller-coaster career

Matt Kalil has been to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and ridiculed just two years later. What’s the truth? The film shows the good and bad of Kalil’s up-and-down career.

The Minnesota Vikings had two first-round draft picks in 2012. Their first was offensive tackle Matt Kalil, who was drafted No. 4 overall after the team traded back one spot with the Cleveland Browns. There were some who thought that might have been too high for an offensive lineman, but finding a left tackle was a high priority for the Vikings at the time after one season with Charlie Johnson in that role.

In his rookie season, Kalil made the draft pick seem like a smart move as he held down the left side of the line and even earned a Pro Bowl bid. He seemed to be well on his way to having a long, successful NFL career, but injuries and inconsistent play seemed to change that in the ensuing two years.

Kalil has suffered from erratic play since his rookie year. He has never missed a game in his three seasons in the NFL, but in 2013 he dealt with a lower back injury and in 2014 he dealt with knee problems. Injuries can be hard to deal with for any player, but can be even harder to play through for a lineman who is battling in the trenches each and every snap.

Those injuries have led to some inconsistent play, but they are not the only reason for it. Another part could be because of the guard play next to him. It is hard for a fan to tell who on the offensive line is responsible for blocking which player. So whenever the right defensive end gets to the quarterback for a sack, everyone wants to lay the blame on Kalil, but that might not always be the case.

If Kalil gets beat to the inside, where he often did in 2014, he may have been expecting inside help. Communication is key along the offensive line, which is why experts always say it is important for a line to stay intact for multiple years. But if communication is lacking, sacks will come in bunches, which happened to the Vikings last season.

Earlier this month, head coach Mike Zimmer said that Kalil is feeling healthier than he has since his rookie year. If that is the case, then Viking fans should expect him to be performing at a high level once again. The team is also considering moving Brandon Fusco, who is arguably the Vikings’ best offensive lineman, to the left guard position in order to give Kalil a little extra help.

With all that in place, Kalil should be ready to bounce back from a season where Pro Football Focus had him listed as one of the worst left tackles in the NFL.

Vikings Update takes a look at Kalil’s performance in the 2014 season to help better understand what he offers the team moving forward.

Play No. 1
We mentioned that there were multiple sacks credited to Kalil that may not have been his fault because of poor communication between him and the left guard. This play is an example of that. It was ultimately the player who Kalil was responsible for that got the sack, but it may not have been Kalil’s fault.

At the start of the play it appears that the offensive linemen all take on the defenders one-on-one, but the Lions run a stunt and that complicates things. Kalil stays with his man as he moves to the inside but Charlie Johnson, the left guard, thinks they are supposed to trade rushers. So he also goes to block the defensive end that rushes to the inside and the tackle running around the outside goes free.

Once Johnson realizes Kalil was staying on his man, he tries to move back to the defensive tackle going around the outside, but at that point quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has already had to move up in the pocket. But since Johnson and Kalil got tangled up with one another, the defensive end was free to get off Kalil and sack Bridgewater once he started to scramble.

If there was clear communication between Kalil and Johnson, then this play could have gone a lot smoother and it is possible the Vikings could have converted the first down. Instead, they gave up a sack on a fourth-and-9 and it was a turnover on downs.

Play No. 2
Just because there were a couple sacks credited to Kalil that may not have been his fault does not mean he never gets beat. He still got beat on multiple occasions last season, and this next play is an example of that.

Kalil appears to be responsible for the New York Jets right defensive end and right when the ball is snapped he squares up to him and begins to back peddle. However, the defensive end cuts to the inside of Kalil while he is back peddling and has a clear shot at Bridgewater’s blind side. Kalil then grabs onto the defensive end and brings him to the ground in order to protect his quarterback.

Bridgewater feels the pressure on his backside and begins to scramble. Once he does that, he gets sacked from another player regardless and Kalil drew a holding penalty. But there were a couple things that Kalil could have done differently that could have changed the outcome of this play.

Instead of back peddling as far back as he did, Kalil should have planted his feet into the ground earlier and drove his hands under the shoulder pads of the pass rusher. If that happened, he wouldn’t have given up the inside move and he would have had control of the rusher; Bridgewater wouldn’t have needed to scramble around and it is possible that the team could have completed the pass.

Even though Kalil has been in the league for three years, there are still little things like this that he needs to clean up in order to become a better pass protector.

Play No. 3
Even though Kalil did struggle from time to time during the 2014 season, he did have bright spots as well. One example of that is the Week 1 game against the St. Louis Rams. Kalil had the job of blocking defensive end Robert Quinn, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, all game long, and Kalil appeared to be up for the challenge. Quinn didn’t record a single sack and only recorded two tackles.

This play is a good example of how Kalil was able to match up against Quinn. Right off the snap Quinn bull rushes right into Kalil and instead of being knocked backwards Kalil is able to hold his ground. The he gets his hands underneath Quinn’s shoulder pads and is actually able to steer him away from quarterback Matt Cassel. This then allows Cassel some extra time to step up into the pocket and pitch the ball off to the running back.

It often goes unnoticed when an offensive lineman makes a good play, especially when it is away from the action. On the contrary, if they make a mistake or allow a sack, everyone usually sees it. This is something that Kalil has had to deal with during his NFL career and even though he does make mistakes from time to time he also makes good plays.

Play No. 4
Coming out of college, Kalil was thought to be a solid run blocker and that has not changed very much since he entered into the NFL. He still has the ability to get off the ball quickly and knock his defender off balance and open up a running lane for the ball carrier. In this play, he is able to take out two defenders in one move.

When the ball is snapped, Kalil is able to steer the defensive end to the inside while also taking out a linebacker in the process. This then seals the edge for running back Jerick McKinnon to get around the outside and up field in a hurry. Because of Kalil being able to clear the edge so well, McKinnon does not meet a defender until he is already 10 yards up the field.

These are the types of plays that coaches want to see their linemen make in the running game – take control of a defender and steer them to the inside and open up a running lane for the running back. Kalil, with the help of fullback Jerome Felton, was able to create a large hole for McKinnon to run through. That type of hole will make any running back look good.

Play No. 5
Even in the running game, Kalil will get beat from time to time. In this play, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson motions into the backfield and will get a pitch out to the left. Kalil has to hold his block long enough for Patterson to be able to get the ball and make a move so he can get up field.

Unfortunately for Patterson, that doesn’t happen. The defensive end sheds Kalil’s block pretty quickly and is on top of Patterson, along with a couple other defenders, in the backfield just after he gets the ball in his hands.

Kalil did not get good hand placement on the defender, which allowed the defender to get around him. Usually an offensive lineman wants to get their hands in the chest or up under the shoulder pads of a defender so the have the ability to steer them wherever they want.

Since Kalil was unable to do that, the defender was able to shed the block easily and get to Patterson in the backfield. Patterson was then tackled for a 2-yard loss.

The first three seasons of Kalil’s career have been a rollercoaster, to say the least. He has made the Pro Bowl and later was considered one off the worst left tackles in the NFL. He has suffered multiple injuries and been ridiculed by fans and media alike. Still, he has never missed a game and has always tried to remain positive throughout the entire process.

This offseason, the Minnesota Vikings chose to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract worth $11.096 million, which shows the team still believes in him as a player. The tackle has said that he is feeling healthier than he has since his rookie season, so this could be the season he is able to turn everything around. He and the Vikings hope that’s the case.

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