Pass protection an ongoing issue for Minnesota Vikings

 Teddy Bridgewater was sacked seven times and hit 11 other times and the issues in protection were wide-ranging.

The Minnesota Vikings allowed seven sacks Sunday to the Denver Broncos. The Broncos pass rush was mentioned several times to head coach Mike Zimmer and many of the players in the week leading up to the game, but it’s doubtful any of them imagined the offense would give up that many sacks.

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had been sacked plenty in other games during his career, but he usually took the blame for it, saying he held onto the ball too long. That was not the case this past week.

“This isn’t a finger-pointing session,” Bridgewater said when asked who’s to blame for the sacks.

Although Bridgewater will never admit it, the Vikings pass protection was not great against the Broncos. Sure, there were a couple times when Bridgewater held onto the ball longer than he should have, but there were a lot of plays when he had defenders in his face by the time he reached the top of his drop.

Zimmer admitted that the Broncos blitzed a little more than they expected them too, which caused some of the problems, but also said that was not the only reason they allowed so many sacks.

“They blitzed a little bit more, yeah,” he said. “We had a couple mental errors. We had a couple guys get beat, so it was a combination of things. I thought Teddy did a good job at getting the ball out. There was a couple times where we weren’t able to adjust the protection because of the movement things we had going on.”

One of the players that really seemed to struggle was rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings. He had the duty of blocking outside linebacker and pass-rushing specialist Von Miller for most of the night, a tough task for anyone, especially a rookie.

The Vikings tried to give Clemmings help whenever they could by moving a tight end or running back over to his side, but they weren’t going to do that on every play. Some plays they couldn’t provide Clemmings with help and on those plays the coaching staff expects him to be able to go one-on-one with whoever it is he is responsible for blocking.

Clemmings has looked solid in his first three games and this was the first time he really looked like a rookie. Zimmer emphasized the fact that he is still a young player and they are going to continue to work with him to help him get better.

“It’s more about consistency right now,” Zimmer said. “There’s times when he does really, really good and then there’s times when he got beat inside one time and he had a mental error one time that caused a sack – he went to the wrong guy. So it’s things like that, but there are a lot of good things that he does and when he’s good he’s good. He’s a young guy that we’re going to need to keep grinding with him, making sure everything is precise with him and continue to work some with him technically. But he continues to impress in some things. We just need to keep going with him.”

On the other side of the line, left tackle Matt Kalil also had a daunting task of going up against DeMarcus Ware. The veteran pass rusher ended the day with one sack on Bridgewater,  Zimmer seemed generally pleased with Kalil’s performance.

“Matt did good,” he said. “He got beat on one game over there, but I thought overall he held his own against Ware. There were times we helped him, too, but he had a fair amount of one-on-ones. He went to the wrong guy one time that caused an issue.”

The Vikings had Bridgewater drop back to pass a lot more than they expected to in this game and because of that the running backs were forced to help block more than they might be used to. Usually you might see Matt Asiata on the field more in those situations because he is a very capable pass blocker. That was not the case in this game, though.

Instead the Vikings decided to stick with Adrian Peterson, who has been known to be shaky as a pass blocker throughout his career. But Zimmer thinks that Peterson has been doing better this year and feels more comfortable with him staying back to block.

“Honestly, Adrian only had one protection problem this last week, but other than that he did a good job in all his protections,” Zimmer said. “He’s working very hard at it. We kept him in there on some third downs this time, so we’ll keep going with him. The thing about Adrian is that he doesn’t say, ‘Hey, I’m just a running back, I don’t want to work on it.’ He wants to work on this. He wants to be out there as much as he possibly can, so he’s committed to becoming a better pass protector, and I believe he is. He’s working very hard at it in knowing which guys to block and how to block them. There’s a couple times he had Von Miller the other day, a couple times he had Ware.”

Another key player in the Vikings offense that has been suspect in pass protection at times is Kyle Rudolph. The tight end is a valuable weapon in the passing game, especially the red zone, but he needs to continue to improve as a blocker.

Zimmer said Rudolph has showed some improvement this season, but there is still more he needs to get better at. When asked whether it was run or pass blocking he needed to improve at more Zimmer just said, “blocking in general.”

As the Vikings continue to move forward this season, there are going to be times when they need to throw the ball more than they would like. In those situations, the line, running backs and tight ends are going to need to provide assistance in pass protection. It’s not too often you can expect to win a game when your quarterback is sacked seven times.

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