The Minnesota Vikings have problems on the offensive line. That much is obvious to the casual observer.
However, the grades and statistics given out by Pro Football Focus, along with our own film review, charting and notes further point to the issues, with descriptions like “awful” and “terrible” given to two of the Vikings’ offensive linemen.
Right guard Brandon Fusco was given a 32.7 grade in pass protection and a review of the film showed where and when he struggled. Fusco was beaten on a fourth-quarter sack by Akiem Hicks two plays after he gave up a pressure from Hicks. The pressure led to a hurried throw that Matt Asiata dropped and the sack led to a punt early in the fourth quarter from midfield, despite the Vikings trailing 20-3. PFF credited Fusco with one sack and four pressures allowed.
Although PFF loves center Joe Berger and gave him the second-best grade of the night for the Vikings at 80.7, Berger was responsible for another sack that Hicks had in an awful series for the offensive line at the end of the first half. With the Vikings facing first-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Asiata gained one yard combined on two runs, and Berger was blown backwards on the third-down dropback as Hicks sacked Sam Bradford and forced a field goal instead of a potential touchdown that would have brought the Vikings within one score, 13-7, instead of 13-3.
But while we may disagree with how highly PFF rated Berger’s game – they credited him with his best run-blocking game of the season – there is little doubt that the Vikings’ worst offensive performance came from T.J. Clemmings at right tackle. Clemmings spent time at left tackle and right tackle last week, but he was given a chance to settle in at right tackle on Monday night. PFF credited Clemmings for giving up a sack, three hits and four hurries and classified him as “a problem desperate in need of fixing.” They also gave him a dismal 31.4 grade.
In the second quarter, Pernell McPhee clubbed Clemmings, pushing him to the side, as McPhee hit Bradford as he released a third-down pass that was ruled a fumble. The Vikings recovered, but because of a post-play penalty on Chicago for an extra player entering the field of play while the recovery was still ongoing, the Vikings kept the ball. PFF classified Clemming’s performance as “terrible” and Fusco’s night as “awful.”
While many expected the Vikings would make Jake Long a backup once again on Monday night, he started at left tackle played fairly well after a couple disastrous series last week subbing in for Clemmings at left tackle. On Monday, Long allowed a second-quarter sack to LB Leonard Floyd, but generally played well in pass protection.
While much of the pass-protection problems on Monday night could be attributed to the offensive line – especially Clemmings and Fusco – Bradford can take some of the blame, too, as he did after the game. According to PFF, all five of the Bears’ sacks came when Bradford held the ball for longer than 2.6 seconds and the average time to sack was 4.06 seconds, the third-longest for all quarterbacks in Week 8. That was especially apparent on his first sack, when Rhett Ellison had Cornelius Washington locked up as long as could be expected before Bradford moved to his right and then scrambled back to his left before Washington caught up and pulled him down from behind before Bradford could reach the line of scrimmage.
What made matters even more concerning is that the Bears blitzed only twice all game long, yet pressured Bradford 20 times in his 42 dropbacks – 37 attempts and five sacks – according to PFF.
While Vikings fans have long lamented the struggles of the offensive line, the fear was that the Philadelphia Eagles gave a blueprint for the rest of the NFL how to blitz the Vikings. The Bears’ performance may have been even more disconcerting, as they proved teams don’t have to blitz to get pressure.
OTHER NOTES, OBSERVATIONS
- Anthony Barr was PFF’s second-ranked linebacker last year, but he’s down to 53rd now after getting a grade of 39. The main issue with Barr on Monday night is that he appeared to bite too often on play-action and misdirection plays. Bears QB Jay Cutler had a 115.3 rating when targeting Barr three times.
- It may not have seemed like it after Jordan Howard rushed for 153 yards, but NT Linval Joseph had an excellent game. PFF gave him an 88.3 grade, the second highest of the week for interior defensive linemen, and the film showed time and again how good Joseph was in high-effort plays to close down rushing lanes. He also had a hit and three hurries as a pass rusher.
- With FS Andrew Sendejo out with an ankle injury, rookie Jayron Kearse was pulled after being out of position during Howard’s 69-yard run and replacement Anthony Harris had a good game. Harris played in 48 snaps and earned a 75.6 grade from PFF.
- Cutler posted a 100.5 passer rating, throwing for 252 yards against the Vikings, and, per PFF, his receivers had 133 yards after the catch.