Tom Dahlin/Viking Update

Offensive line health critical to success for Minnesota Vikings

Those with good memories recall the concern when the 4-0 Vikings were going without either starting offensive tackle. That should have been the siren that went off because health and success seem to go hand in hand.

There are always theories as to why the Minnesota Vikings didn’t make the playoffs. One reason often cited is that there was no continuity on the offensive line.

The numbers of the playoff teams are in stark contrast to the Vikings.

Minnesota’s top five starters in terms of snap count included two players that weren’t supposed to be starters.

Of the 1,053 plays the Vikings offense ran, these were the top five players in terms of when the ball was snapped and their percentage of those plays that they were a part of.

T.J. Clemmings (883, 83.9 percent), Alex Boone (873, 82.9 percent), Joe Berger (853, 81.0 percent), Brandon Fusco (835, 79.3 percent), Jeremiah Sirles (773, 73.4 percent).

Keep in mind that Clemmings wasn’t a starter on opening day. Berger was a center who moved to guard. Sirles was the third option at right tackle.

Contrast that to the playoff teams and determine for yourself if the reason they made the playoffs was due to offensive continuity or accomplished despite a shaky O-line – keeping in mind that, in blowouts, occasionally coaches pull their starters or selected starters who are banged up at the end of blowout games.

Here is the playoffs tale of the tape:

Atlanta – The five starting offensive linemen missed a total of 122 of a possible 5,195 snaps – playing a combined total of 97.7 percent of potential snaps.

New England – The five starting offensive linemen missed a total of 285 out of a possible 5,590 snaps – an impressive 94.9 percent.

Kansas City – Tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz played all of the Chiefs 1,022 snaps and center Mitch Morse missed just three snaps.

Dallas – Three offensive linemen – center Travis Frederick, guard Zack Martin and tackle Doug Free – combined to miss just four snaps.

Oakland – Three offensive linemen – center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and tackle Donald Penn – combined to miss just eight snaps and, if you include guard Kelechi Osemele (93 percent), four of the five Raiders starters were involved in 98 percent of snaps.

New York – Three offensive linemen – tackle Ereck Flowers, guard John Jerry and center Weston Richburg – combined to miss just 17 snaps.

Green Bay – Tackles David Balhtiari and Bryan Bulaga and guard Lane Taylor combined to miss just 63 of a possible 3,258 snaps.

Houston – Three linemen – center Greg Mancz, tackle Chris Clark and guard Xavier Su’a Filo – missed a combined 113 snaps of a possible 3,366.

Pittsburgh – Guard David DeCastro and tackle Alejandro Villanueva combined to miss just one snap. No other lineman has better than an 86.6 percent snap count rate, but Week 17 was a de facto bye week.

Detroit – Rookie tackle Taylor Decker played 100 percent of the Lions’ 1,037 snaps, guard Larry Warford played 93.5 percent of snaps and tackle Riley Reiff played 85.7 percent.

Miami – Guard Jermon Bushrod and tackle Ja’Wuan James combined to miss just 15 snaps. Rookie Laremy Tunsil was next at 84.6 percent.

Seattle – Guard Mark Glowinski played all 1,059 plays and center Justin Britt missed just 65 snaps. No other O-lineman played more than 79.3 percent of snaps.

Consider that Clemmings had the most snaps for the Vikings and, if they could have replicated their unprecedented “every snap” designation from 2015, Clemmings wouldn’t have played a down.

It’s funny how the memory works. When the Vikings were 4-0 and had lost both of their opening-day starting tackles, there was legitimate panic at the disco. The Vikings crushed Houston with the tackle tag-team of Clemmings and Sirles and those fears were put on the back burner.

They shouldn’t have been, despite facing what turned out to be 2016’s top defense.

The bye week produced Jake Long, a prototype desperation move along the lines of Randy Moss 2.0 being made as the boat was potentially taking on water. Sirles got benched and, after four games at left tackle, Clemmings got pushed to right tackle – despite two Vikings turnovers being the direct result of Long gaffes at left tackle.

Change is coming in Minnesota and, from looks of things, if you want to get to the playoffs, the easiest path is to have a healthy offensive line – in whole or significant part – from Day One to Week 17.

The Vikings had that in 2015. They made the playoffs. They didn’t have it in 2016 and they’re watching the playoffs. Coincidence? Decide for yourself.

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