When people think about pass protection, usually their first thoughts are about the offensive line, and that makes sense. The offensive line is the first line of protection for the quarterback when he drops back to pass, but in reality there are a lot of moving parts that have to come together to create good protection.
This week the Minnesota Vikings take on one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing duos in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said there really isn’t another combination in the league like it and he knows it is going to be important for his team to block them.
“I don’t know that you can prepare for this situation in terms of Von Miller and the setting where we’re playing them,” Turner said. “I’ve coached against him a number of times. He’s a dynamic player, a dynamic rusher, probably the quickest first step in football and if he doesn’t have it, 94 (DeMarcus Ware) on the other side does. It’s going to be a challenge for our guys.”
Offensive guard Brandon Fusco knows that protecting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater this week is going to be a team effort and communication is a must. The offensive line not only has to be in sync with one another, but also with Bridgewater, the running back and the tight ends.
If they can do that, then Fusco believes they are going to be in a good spot to have a good game against a pass rush that already has 11 sacks through three games.
“Your protection is not just the offensive line,” Fusco said. “It starts with the quarterback, running back, tight end, offensive line, so it’s a team thing to do. As long as we’re all on the same page, starting with the offensive line and the quarterback, running back knows where he’s going, so if we’re on the same page we’ll be fine.”
But there are going to be times when the offensive line is going to have to go up against these rushers one-one-one, and when that happens Fusco said they simply have to get the job done.
But even when there is not a running back left in the backfield to help in pass protection, the offensive line is likely going to be getting help in one way or another. Usually, it will consist of a running back or tight end chipping the pass rushers when they start their routes.
“I think every game we try to help out our tackles as much as we can,” fullback Zach Line said. “Buys Teddy a little more time, makes their job a little bit easier, so I think we’re always trying to put an emphasis on helping out the tackles. If we’re going up the middle, we’ll help out the guards.”
It is often the plays that go unnoticed throughout the course of a game that make the biggest impact. On defense it can be a defensive lineman taking on multiple blockers in order to free up a blitzing linebacker to get a sack. On offense it can be a running back blocking an oncoming rusher and buying his quarterback just enough time to complete a pass.
Pass blocking is something that running back Matt Asiata has worked on throughout his career and is something that he prides himself in. He sees it as a way to help out his teammates, and the more ways he can help them out the better.
“I take pride in pass protecting,” Asiata said. “It’s a team game and I’m a team player. And I really want the team to succeed down the line and my goal is to go 1-0 and protect out quarterback and run the ball efficiently.”
Because he is so efficient as a pass blocker, it’s possible he will get extra snaps against the Broncos, just so the Vikings can have an extra security blanket in the backfield to help keep Bridgewater upright.
When head coach Mike Zimmer was asked about Asiata playing more, however, he said every situation in a game is different and for now they are just planning on riding Adrian Peterson.
But Peterson also knows the importance of protecting Bridgewater in this game and he plans to do just that whenever needed because he knows their best chance to win is by neutralizing the pass rush whenever possible.
“(Denver’s pass rushers) make a lot of noise coming off the edge,” Peterson said. “I think they have 10 or 11 sacks already. So we as a running back group, and fullbacks and tight ends, we have to be on point, on the same page, as far as communicating and making sure that we’re accounting for those guys wherever they are. 58 (Miller) and 94 (Ware), those guys are going to get hit every play and that’s how we’re going to have out best chance to win.”