Jake Long said he wasn’t going to make excuses for his play in Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and members of the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line in general stuck with the theme that they need to play better.
But did the unusual tactic of rotating offensive tackles affect their performance?
“It’s just one of those things, that’s part of the game. You’re a professional. You’re expected to do it,” said guard Alex Boone, who played next to T.J. Clemmings and Long as his flanking left tackles. “A lot of people, I think, try to lean on that and say that, but at the end of the day you’ve got to do your job. If you want to win against a good defense in their place you’ve got to be on your game.”
Clemmings started the game at left tackle and played every snap. However, 13 of his snaps came at right tackle because Vikings coaches decided they wanted to get Long some work at left tackle after signing him on Oct. 11.
The Vikings’ situation at offensive tackle has been a mess this year. Former starting right tackle Phil Loadholt retired before training camp. Free-agent right tackle Andre Smith started the first four games and then went on injured reserve. Starting left tackle Matt Kalil started the first two games and then he went on injured reserve. Rotational guard/tackle Mike Harris has been dealing with an undisclosed medical issue discovered before training camp started that is likely to keep him out for the season.
The Vikings have tried to find upgrades over the last year but haven’t been able to keep them healthy.
“You have all offseason to get guys worked together and then all of the sudden guys go down and new guys come in, we pick up Jake and it’s just one of those things where you don’t have a lot of time to mess around. You’ve got to get together and make sure you’re on the same page all the time,” Boone said.
“I think it’s just playing better with what you have. What are we going to do? Not much you can do. It’s not like you’re going to go down to Carl’s Jr. and find somebody.”
Bradford was sacked six times, fumbled four times, losing two of those and was hit 12 times, according to the game statistics. The Eagles blitzed a defensive back on 13 snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information, as much as they had in their five previous games combined.
Clearly, the Eagles, with more than a year of working with Bradford as their quarterback, believed he could be rattled.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford had a passer rating of 96.7 with no pressure and only a 17.5 rating when he faced pressure.
“At the end of the day we’ve just got to play better,” Boone said when asked about Eagles’ blitzes. “We need to communicate better. Just got to be more prepared.”
Having Long in there, with less than two weeks to prepare, likely affected that communication with blitzes.
New offensive line coach Tony Sparano was brought in to correct some of the struggles that position had in 2015. While the Vikings had the same five offensive linemen starting each game last year, through six games this year they have had three different starting combinations and each lineman on the depth chart has been pressed into duty at one point or another, mostly due to in-game injuries.
Sunday’s film had to be particular tough for the offensive line to digest with Sparano.
“He’s tough on us. He’s an old-school coach and you respect him for it. He’s not going to sugarcoat it,” Boone said. “He’s going to tell you the truth and he’s going to come out here and make us work even harder for it.”
Mike Zimmer called the Vikings’ offensive performance “soft” after the game. Boone didn’t directly address that comment when Viking Update asked him if he thought the line was soft.
“I feel like we need to play better,” he said in response. “I think if you get your quarterback hit that many times it’s going to be a problem.”