Pro Football Focus delivered a jolt of perspective to the Minnesota Vikings longstanding offensive line conundrum this week. The eye-test has illuminated shortcomings about the Vikings offensive line for years, but PFF all but confirmed the riffraff.
Vikings team pass block grade and rank since 2014:
2014: 72.4 (23rd)
2015: 67.9 (28th)
2016: 64.7 (30th)
2017: 71.9 (17th)
2018: 63.6 (27th)
2019: 63.0 (27th)
2020: 55.5 (29th)
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) January 14, 2021
If one sifts through all Minnesota’s statistical metrics since the hire of Mike Zimmer in 2014, no stat parameter is consistently underwater as is the pass-blocking (with the possible exception of extra-point kicking). The defense is generally fear-inducing. The offensive petered out of the gate for Zimmer in 2014 and 2015 but has experienced an explosive uptick since the arrival of Dalvin Cook and Kirk Cousins.
This offense line quandary, though – it simply does not go away. It is an annual occurrence to speculate on the outlook of “this year’s” trenches. Did Rick Spielman fix it this time? Will Mike Remmers be the solution? Each season, a new, half-measured tactic is executed to fix the offensive line – to no avail. This is borne out of the tweet by PFF. Consider the tweet a smoking gun.
PFF’s grades are particularly insightful here – for better or worse – because offensive line stats are not easily obtainable. Sacks-allowed does not tell the whole story nor does rushing-yards-for. Together – these stats can take the pulse of an offensive line, but a full verdict is not the result.
Here is why the PFF tweet is so damning.
7 Years of Suffering
On average under Zimmer, the Vikings offensive line ranks 26th per PFF in pass-blocking since 2014. That is not good. It isn’t even “up and down.” The pass-blocking acumen of the Zimmer Vikings has been consistently bad. Thankfully for Zimmer’s sake, his defense is usually as good – as the offensive line is poor. Call it gridiron deodorant.
In 2020, neither department was serviceable. Per points allowed and offensive line pass-blocking, the Vikings ranked fourth-worst in the industry for both metrics. Divisions cannot be won, postseason games cannot be played, and Super Bowls victories do not actualize when both sides of the trenches are stinky. Stinky trenches beset the Vikings in 2020.
If the offense as a whole was this problematic or if the entire defense fell to the bottom of the NFL in grading – like the pass-blocking in the PFF tweet — the head coach would be jettisoned by year-three. Luckily, it is “only” a segment of the offense that is woeful. Playmakers hide the frailty of the offensive line. Consider how prosperous the franchise could be if the Vikings were able to muster a 17th-best offensive line each season? It’s not too much to ask.
An Average Season = NFC Championship
Need evidence? In 2017, Minnesota’s pass-blocking ranked 17th leaguewide per PFF. That is one notch below average. Guess what? The Vikings had a storybook season and visited the NFC Championship. This suggests that with even a smidgen of pass-blocking, Zimmer’s team could pound at the Super Bowl door more frequently. It’s what they did in 2017. Why not fire up the league’s 18th-best pass-blocking unit for 2021 and see what happens?
All that may be necessary is slightly-below average offensive line play if 2017 is any indicator.
2020 as the Worst Yet
The dreadful implication of the PFF nugget is that the worst grade is the most recent. The 55.5 PFF grade is the worst under a purple Zimmer regime. Indeed, the 2016 Vikings generated a lower NFL ranking, but the raw score was about nine points higher than the 2020 Vikings.
This might be perceived as “rock bottom.” Will it get any worse than a score of 55.5? Perhaps this the galvanizing moment that elucidates years of offensive line-related failure. Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland are all relatively young. The world is at their fingertips in terms of maturation. If left tackle Riley Reiff remains on the roster, Minnesota should not need much more than one left guard for 2021. Last season, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak interchanged Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia at the left guard spot – a twosome that can be aptly coined as utterly putrid.
The pass-blocking nightmare ends in one of two ways: The Vikings find a guard worth his salt while the other four pieces develop. Or the team finishes south of 20th in the NFL — again — and tries to figure out why 2021 went wrong at this junction next year. You know, the yearly January-March routine for Vikings analysts.
The bittersweet part is that PFF finally exposed it in a simple tweet. The problem has been identified — one that was already widely recognized by Vikings loyalists. Now the Vikings must take action to get closer to 2017’s standing rather than that of 2020.