Are Vikings OL Improvements a Mirage?

Are Vikings OL Improvements a Mirage?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Are Vikings OL Improvements a Mirage?

If there has been a constant refrain in recent seasons for the Minnesota Vikings, it has been that the team needs to figure out secondary and offensive line issues. Things appear to be going better for the latter this season, but does Kevin O’Connell’s offense have us all duped?

When training camp opened, the offensive line was one of the most imperative issues to be handled. New head coach Kevin O’Connell was taking over a Vikings team ripe with skill position players, but they needed to ensure a way to get them the football. In recent seasons we’ve seen highly-paid quarterback Kirk Cousins be uncomfortable in the pocket and on his back more often than not.

Are Vikings OL Improvements a Mirage?
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Are Vikings OL Improvements a Mirage?

Up front, that likely started with center Garrett Bradbury. A former 18th overall pick in 2019, there had been no point in his career thus far in which he’d looked capable of holding down a starting role. Bradbury routinely allowed pressure directly up the middle, and regardless of the guards flanking him, he consistently found himself outmatched and put the Vikings in a terrible spot.

New general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah brought in veteran guard Chris Reed this offseason, and there was late talk of him being a factor at the center position. If O’Connell thought Bradbury couldn’t hack it, and he looked rough during the preseason, the situation was dire enough to consider starting a guard out of position.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

If you’ve watched the Vikings every week, there have certainly been rays of hope. Christian Darrisaw looks like an All-Pro left tackle, and Brian O’Neill has remained as trustworthy on the other side. Surprisingly, Bradbury has stepped up throughout a good portion of the regular season, and he’s hardly been the turnstile he was once synonymous with. The issues lie more with the guard play. Ezra Cleveland is a middling veteran, while Ed Ingram continues to take his lumps during his rookie season.

It has all culminated in a ton of pressure reaching Cousins. No quarterback in the NFL has been hit more than Minnesota’s signal caller. With over 500 dropbacks to date, Cousins is being hit over 12.5% of the time. For a guy needing to stay protected and upright when looking to utilize his vast pass-catching options, he’s simply been on his back too much.

Last season, Cousins was sacked just 28 times in 16 games. Already at 33 this year, he will blow by that number. It’s beyond likely that he’ll set a new career high, surpassing the 41 he took in 2017 with Washington. His sacks have also resulted in nearly 250 negative yards and are trending towards topping the 342 he lost when leading the league in 2017.

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

To a certain extent, playcalling could be an issue when keeping Cousins upright. Trying to get the ball out of his hands more quickly may help to alleviate pressure. There’s also a decision-making factor on Cousins’ end. He has to climb the pocket better and release the ball. Either way, it’s a team-oriented issue that starts up front and needs to be rectified.

Minnesota will see stout edge rushers in the playoffs, and whether they come up the middle or look to beat the bookends, the line must be better in keeping their quarterback standing.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.