Vikings Can and Need to Address O-Line’s Weakest Link

AP Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn

It took one titillating offensive half of football against the Seattle Seahawks for Minnesota Vikings fans to start feeling way too optimistic about what was once considered their team’s biggest weakness. Kirk Cousins playing behind an offensive line that can’t pass block.

The Vikings improved their record to 1-2 in that week 3 win over Seattle and their offensive line netted one of its best performances in years. But then, the Cleveland Browns came to town a week later and put reality back into perspective. The Minnesota offensive line is what we thought it was and that’s not a good thing.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line allowed 30 total pressures, 7 QB hits and allowed their rushers just 1.1 yards before contact. If you watched the game, you’re not surprised by these horrid statistics.

I almost wrote a blog about Kirk Cousins the MVP candidate after the convincing Seattle victory. Yikes, right? Maybe… but maybe not. If Kirk is protected by an offensive line that doesn’t resemble a crew of Best Buy security guards opening on Black Friday, the future possibilities could be endless.

Historically Bad

You might not be grasping how terrible the offensive line played on Sunday. Maybe my metaphors aren’t good enough. Maybe you need more than three tweeted video clips to form an opinion. Fine, but let’s see if some more advance metrics dug out by Arif Hasan (The Athletic) can portray things in a better light.

Kirk Cousins, according to PFF, was pressured on 55% of his drop backs vs the Cleveland Browns. According to Arif, that’s only happened three other times in Cousins’ Vikings tenure. Not only did the purple lose those three previous games, they haven’t won at all when Kirk gets pressured at a rate higher than 44% of his drop backs.

But this isn’t a Kirk Cousins thing. When the rest of the league’s quarterbacks are pressured on >44% of drop backs, they win just 36.7% of the time. When pressure rates reach 55% or more, teams win just 26.7% of the time. I’m not here to give Arif’s entire article away but I thought these were fascinating metrics that fans can use in the future to judge offensive line play and who might be to blame when the pass game struggles.

It’s no surprise that keeping your quarterback clean is a major key to winning NFL games.

Priority Problem #1

Look, Sunday’s performance against the Browns’ defensive front wasn’t one lineman’s fault. Brian O’Neill, for example, allowed his first pressures of the season on Sunday. And all five offensive linemen took a hit to their PFF grades.

But Rashod Hill’s 39.3 PFF grade through four weeks ranks 71st of 73 qualified NFL offensive tackles. He’s become by-far the biggest weakness on this Vikings offense. His PFF grade makes Garrett Bradbury’s 54.7 (26th of 33 qualified centers) look pro bowl worthy. To exacerbate the situation, Hill plays left tackle so he continually goes up against some of the most talented and highest compensated defensive edge rushers league-wide.

In other words, Kirk Cousins’ blind side is incredibly vulnerable, which is not something the Minnesota coaching staff or front office should take lightly. We’ve seen what Cousins can do if well protected and he’s going to need an MVP-type finish to 2021 if the Vikings are going to return to playoff relevancy.

Some guys are meant to be depth pieces and that’s ok.

Don’t lose your temper on Rashod Hill. He wasn’t supposed to be the Minnesota Vikings starting left tackle in 2021 or beyond. His PFF numbers show it. Hill had easily the best PFF grade of his career in 2020 (72.4), when he played just 11% of offensive snaps. In (4) 2021 games, he’s already more than doubled his snap count from all 16 games in 2020.

Rashod Hill scored a PFF grade under 60 in each of the two seasons he took 50% or more of the offensive snaps. He’s over a 60 grade in years he takes 15% or less. That’s pretty telling and rather incredible.

For this offense to hum, Cousins needs to be kept upright and off the injury report. Just because he’s been overly durable throughout the first half of his career, doesn’t mean anything is promised for tomorrow. One blindside shot could change that healthy reputation in a hurry.

Help on the way?

The starting left tackle for this 2021 Minnesota Vikings squad was supposed to be a 1st round rookie. Instead, Christian Darrisaw saw the practice field for the first time two weeks ago and the playing field for the first time on Sunday vs the Browns. He took one snap, blocking for the only extra point Minnesota kicked.

Admittedly, we have no idea what Darrisaw will look like or how he will handle the right defensive ends he’ll go up against in the NFL. But if he’s really a 1st round talent and healthy enough to play then Christian Darrisaw cannot be worse than Rashod Hill. If he is,.. then the Vikings are in big trouble.

I’m not typing this blog to say that the Vikes are one competent left tackle away from a really good offensive line. But in the middle of a season, fixing the entire front-fence isn’t feasible. You need to pick and choose the spots that need fixing the most. In the case of this Minnesota offense, that’s at left tackle.

Klint Kubiak may have given him a vote of confidence last week but he was proven wrong. Rashod Hill needs to go (to the bench for more limited work). The Vikings coaching staff has to get Darrisaw ready to play immediately, before it’s too late. And “too late” is getting dangerously close to current reality.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan