Vikings OL Has Flipped the Script
The Vikings offensive line had long been lauded for its run-blocking ability while leaving plenty to be desired protecting their quarterback. In 2023, the Vikings OL has flipped the script — for better and worse.
Vikings OL Has Flipped the Script
The Vikings OL is protecting their QB, whether it’s Kirk Cousins, Jaren Hall, or Joshua Dobbs, as well as any Vikings OL has done for years. Minnesota had enough confidence in the unit to trade away former starting left guard Ezra Cleveland to the Jacksonville Jaguars on trade deadline day. After dropping out of the team due to injury, Dalton Risner took his place, and the soon-to-be free agent was moved.
The Vikings have a rising star in Christian Darrisaw at left tackle and an excellent veteran in Brian O’Neill at right tackle. Garrett Bradbury has proved himself a solid starting center, and Ed Ingram is progressing in Year 2 at right guard. The Vikings OL is looking well set for the future.
The surprise, though, is how much the Vikings are struggling with their run blocking.
Alexander Mattison has received lots of criticism, and he does have his share of responsibility for the Vikings run game woes. However, the OL isn’t doing the team’s backs any favors.
Cam Akers gave an initial spark after being traded to Minnesota from the LA Rams, but he started to have the same problems, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry over the last three games. With news that Akers is out for the season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over Atlanta, there will be no more spark from Akers.
Mattison averages just 3.6 yards per carry this season and doesn’t have a rushing touchdown — not numbers you want to see from your lead back. He does have three receiving touchdowns, and it’s the passing game where Mattison has been more effective.
Mattison and Akers had been alternating drives in recent weeks. In light of Akers’ injury, Minnesota may have to revert to leaning on Mattison as a true RB1. Ty Chandler is next in line should the Vikings want to keep the even split going without dipping into the free-agent market. Chandler has 42 rushing yards from just eight attempts, at 5.3 yards per carry. It could be said more opportunity for Chandler is overdue.
Run Blocking Troubles
Whoever is rushing the ball will need more help from the big guys up front.
Even with Darrisaw missing for the Falcons game, David Quessenberry stepped in and had a good game protecting the quarterback. A look at the Pro Football Focus grades for the Falcons game shows the significant discrepancy between the Vikings pass and run blocking.
Pass Blocking Grades
- David Quessenberry — 86.6
- Ed Ingram — 81.8
- Dalton Risner — 77.9
- Brian O’Neill — 66.4
- Garrett Bradbury — 65.8
As a group, those are more than acceptable numbers ranging from excellent to good. It was an unusually rough game for O’Neill that got worse in run-blocking, as it did for everyone.
Run Blocking Grades
- Dalton Risner — 61.6
- David Quessenberry — 44.4
- Ed Ingram — 43.0
- Brian O’Neill — 40.6
- Garrett Bradbury — 37.8
The difference between those two sets of numbers is staggering, and the amount of times a Vikings back is met by a defender before even reaching the line of scrimmage is a major concern. Kevin O’Connell has been searching for a more balanced offense all season, and the search remains as the Vikings host the New Orleans Saints in Week 11.
Minnesota did manage 146 rushing yards in Atlanta, but 66 of those came from Dobbs and 11 from Hall on scrambles. With Dobbs now set to be the starter in Week 11, using his athleticism to supplement the run game is an option.
Everyone Needs to be Better
The answer to solving the riddle of the Vikings rushing attack is a simple one in theory but more difficult in practice — everybody needs to get better.
The OL needs to get some push and make more holes for the backs to attack. Mattison needs to show better vision and attack the line of scrimmage with more purpose — turning no gain into two yards will make a difference. Chandler or whoever else comes into the attack needs to provide a spark similar to the one Akers initially had.
When something continues to fail, you have to look at the man calling the plays. What can coach O’Connell do to get his rushing attack going? The Vikings HC showcased incredible coaching aptitude in guiding Dobbs through his first game. He is implementing an excellent offensive system in Minnesota, and he needs some of his magic to rub off on the ground game.
Can he bring a bit more invention to the playcalling? Jet sweeps have seen success for the Vikings, particularly with Brandon Powell. With an RB down, more usage for the former college back is an option. He is likely to be on the field for the moment, with Justin Jefferson’s return from injury still unclear and K.J. Osborn in the concussion protocol.
The Saints rushing defense ranks in the middle of the pack (17th) for opponent rushing yards allowed, with 112.3 yards per game. It will take a concerted effort from everybody for the Vikings to establish a solid running game as they look to go over 100 team rushing yards for only the fourth time this season.