Pass protection fails Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings still haven’t been able to solve their offensive line issues, a theme going back to last year, but Mike Zimmer and the players aren’t denying it. They have to own it and correct it.

The Minnesota Vikings ended their two-week streak as the only undefeated team in the NFL because they were too weak up front.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer made no secret of his desire to improve the offensive line this offseason, but a change in position coach – from Jeff Davidson to Tony Sparano – and numerous changes in personnel have been met with even more uncertainty as offensive linemen have been injured, beaten or simply ineffective for most of the season.

That was never more obvious than Sunday as Philadelphia’s swat team was too much for Minnesota’s overmatched linemen.

“We didn’t block anybody. We were soft. We got overpowered,” Zimmer said. “The safety beat the tackle one time, the safety beat the back a couple times. It was a little bit of man-on-man, and we got whipped.”

Quarterback Sam Bradford took some of the responsibility on himself, saying he could do a better job of keeping two hands on the football when in traffic or get rid of the ball quicker. It’s a nice sentiment, but the reality is that his protection was well below average and Zimmer knows it.

At this point, the team is essentially out of salary-cap room and out of viable options on the free-agent market after signing tackle Jake Long in between their two most recent games. Essentially the Vikings are going to have to improve in the way Rick Spielman talks about personnel moves: They’ll “keep it all internal.”

“We’re not going to go down the street and pick up a bunch of guys. We need to get these guys better and do it quickly,” Zimmer said. “I’m disappointed that we allowed that to happen. You kind of know going into the game that they’re going to come after Bradford. I didn’t go to Harvard but I can probably figure that out and we didn’t get it done.”

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Bradford admitted that the quickness of the Eagles flying into his face and swatting at the ball from behind affect him, but so did numerous dropped passes from his receiving corps.

It started on the initial third down of the game when Matt Asiata dropped a short pass on third-and-4. On the third series, Kyle Rudolph dropped a first-down pass and a strange call on the next play – when the officials picked up a flag on an obvious defensive pass interference – helped thwart that drive. Rudolph and Asiata each also dropped passes in the fourth quarter when the Vikings were desperately trying to mount an improbable comeback when down 21-3 with 6 minutes to play.

Bradford also missed some throws that the quarterback with the highest completion percentage in the NFL entering Week 7 usually makes with regularity. But, as Zimmer said, it’s difficult to evaluate his body of work when his body wasn’t allowed to work without bruising often.

“He got hit a lot, so it’s hard to evaluate his performance when we looked like a sieve in there,” Zimmer said.

There was blame to go around, but, mostly, the offense had its worst outing of the season because Bradford couldn’t find the time to muster any rhythm in the passing game.

He was sacked six times, fumbled four times (losing two of them) and was hit an amazing 19 times.

The issues started early for the Vikings, as they tried to work newly acquired left tackle Jake Long into the game. He was beaten twice around the edge, both of them resulting in Bradford sacks and fumbles.

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For as many problems as the offensive has had, the decision of the coaching staff to work in Long at left tackle meant that starter T.J. Clemmings was being asked to rotate between left tackle and right tackle. It was asking a lot of a second-year player in Clemmings and of Long after having only a week-plus of practice with the Vikings. In the second half, they stuck with Long on the bench and Clemmings at left tackle.

If it weren’t for two drives that ended in the fourth quarter when the Vikings were already trailing badly, their longest drive of the game would have been 50 yards. In essentially the first 40 minutes of the game, the Vikings had managed only 115 yards of offense. Their final three drives, when the Eagles altered their defensive scheme to preserve the win, the Vikings added 167 yards.

The Eagles had their plan against their former quarterback and executed it with unbridled aggression.

“We did a whole lot of zone blitzing. That was one of the things that we knew we could probably take advantage of with a quarterback like that. That was our game plan and we executed it,” Philadelphia linebacker Nigel Bradham said.

 “Our goal was to not just let Sam sit back there and be able to complete passes, because we know what kind of quarterback he can be if he’s able to do that. That was our main focus, and we came in and executed as a defense. We were happy that we were able to get him off his spot and make plays.”

The finals yardage numbers don’t tell the story. The final numbers on Bradford do: 24-for-41 passing for 224 yards, one touchdown, one interception, six sacks, four fumbles, two fumbles lost and at least a dozen hits.

Bradford missed some passes. His receivers dropped some others. But, mostly, he wasn’t given enough time to operate effectively. Once again, that fell on the offensive line.

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