Analysis

Vikings’ Keeping A Close Eye On Elflein Against Cardinals

Sorry, but we've already seen Matt Kalil.

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Third year Vikings’ offensive lineman Pat Elflein struggled mightily in 2018, and his performance in two preseason games has been less than overwhelming. Is his starting role on this team only penciled in?

 

Mr. Pat Elflein, we’re all going to be watching you carefully today.

You see, we’ve had our Matt Kalil.

In 2017, you were part of an overhaul of the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line that included new players at every position except one.

It worked, at least upon reflection of Minnesota’s abysmal 2016 offensive line and the overall win-loss record that the Vikings produced that very next year, but the ultimate truth of the situation was this: there was very little room for error.

We saw that up close in the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 2018, that “little room” became a closed rat trap, as the Vikings’ offensive line again resembled nothing other than Keystone Cops when facing talented defensive lines.

Don’t Feed The Bears

Here’s an unsightly example:

In two crucial games against the Chicago Bears–the new true division rival of the Vikings– Chicago held Minnesota’s run game to 85 yards on 29 carries–2.9 yard average. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was constantly harassed by a crushed middle pocket and Minnesota mustered a mere 432 total yards in two losses.

It was like the 1980’s out there.

Pro Football Focus, not the ultimate judge of football players, but awfully thorough with their examinations, gave the Minnesota interior offensive line some really lousy marks in 2018:

Guard Mike Remmers (overall grade) 60.0

Guard Tom Compton (overall grade) 58.0

Center Pat Elflein (overall grade) 43.5

Elflein’s rating made him the 38th ranked center in 32 NFL teams.

As we know, Mike Remmers and Tom Compton are no longer in Minnesota, and though it’s certainly premature to think that Elflein’s seat as a Viking is heating up, his spot as a starter most certainly could be.

This is no great “sophomore slump”. In 2017, Elflein was rated by PFF as an overall below-average center (66.1), as a rookie.

No doubt injury did play a part in him dropping over 20 points in that adjudication the following year, but how did his performance, or lack thereof, contribute to the 2018 Vikings losing five more games than they did in 2017?

New Sheriff In Town

Throughout 2019 training camp, Elflein has had the advantage of being an incumbent player on a line that should honestly give no advantage to anyone.

If new offensive line coach Rick Dennison has judged that–up to now–Elflein is the Vikings best option at the starting right guard spot, I’ll certainly defer to his experience in leading strong groups.

But if the preseason is worth anything, it’s the opportunity it gives coaches to look over the battles in the trenches, where guys like Elflein have decided to make a living.

If the Vikings are going to establish their offense around a working zone-run strategy, they need guards with more savvy and power than what Elflein has shown in his brief career.

Cardinal Test

The Arizona Cardinals have a few new faces on their 3-4 defense this year, including linebackers’ Jordan Hicks from Philadelphia and Terrell Suggs from Baltimore

Yes, that’s the Terell Suggs who will be 37 in October.

And they needed them. The Cardinals were dead last in the NFL last year against the run in yards, touchdowns, and attempts against.

They gave up 2479 yards last year on the ground–a 4.9 yard average!

They are now coached by new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who has a head coach in Denver last year did no wonders for a Broncos’ run defense, a unit that itself ranked 21st in the league in rushing yards allowed.

Point: let’s see the Vikings’ run the ball today–with authority.

If it seems like we’re slinging mud, forgive us. But if Pat Elflein like wants to stay clean, he’s going to have to kick up some dirt of his own.

This young man is hardly doomed to be an ineffective player, but at 6’ 3”, 303 lbs, he’s clearly an undersized guard in a modern NFL, and has yet to prove he’s a tough enough tactician to be successful.

As a mafia boss has often said: “this is business.”

You can’t run a run-first offense with guys up front that get pushed around.

 

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