We all know that preseason results mean nothing. We all know that most of the things that happen with the first-team offense and first-team defense mean nothing. But every year, we make all sorts of judgements about the upcoming year based on a handful of snaps with starters going half speed.
There is no better example of how meaningless the preseason is to starters than Sam Bradford’s first four games. He played zero snaps in preseason with the Vikings, but beat the Green Bay Packers on national TV in his debut.
So why would we make judgements about the Vikings’ offensive line based on a few series’ against the Buffalo Bills?
Sure, the trauma of watching Bradford get slammed to the ground over and over last season is still lingering. And if one of the starting O-linemen cuts himself shaving, it acts as a reminder that the Vikings lost every starter at one point or another in 2016 – including both tackles going down for the year by Week 3.
But Mike Remmers’ whiff against the Bills shouldn’t be seen as a red flashing sign that the Vikings’ season will be undone by poor blocking.
When we pull back to the 20,000-foot view, it’s easy to see how much the offensive line has been improved – even from the non-injured 2016 version.
Riley Reiff hasn’t practiced much yet as a Viking and didn’t play on Thursday night, but the former Detroit Lion has 27 days to get healthy. When he does, Reiff will look like Orlando Pace compared to what the Vikings ran out last season. He isn’t a dominant pass protector, but he also won’t be giving away free shots to every edge rusher. Powerful defensive ends can drive Reiff back into the quarterback, but they won’t fly around him without being touched.
In the run game, Reiff will be a massive upgrade. While it was obvious that TJ Clemmings couldn’t protect against the pass, the part about his struggles was that went less noticed was ranking among the worst run blockers in the NFL, too. Reiff, on the other hand, has rated above average in run blocking by Pro Football Focus standards.
If the Vikings had only added Reiff, they’d be substantially better.
While Remmers was the goat (in a bad way) of Game 1 of the preseason, he is an improvement over Andre Smith and Jeremiah Sirles. On a six-yard run by Dalvin Cook, Remmers drove his man back five yards. That didn’t happen often at right tackle last season.
And if either tackle gets hurt, Rashod Hill has shown in practice and in Week 17 last year that he can fill in capably. No backup tackle is going to be a stud, but he won’t pour gasoline all over the offense and burn it to the ground as the second-stringers up front did last year.
On the inside, Mike Zimmer said rookie Pat Elflein played, “very, very well.” There’s a possibility that he will win the starting job over Nick Easton, who now has NFL experience as opposed to being thrown to the wolves last season.
Of course, there are reasonable criticisms. You have to wonder if we’ll look back and wonder if the Vikings should have added a veteran backup lineman instead of asking Hill to carry the load in case of emergency.
Or, we might as if it was wise to count on Joe Berger to be as good as he was last year at 36 years old – though Elflein was a better guard than center in college.
There’s a saying that applies here: Don’t let perfect get in the way of better. Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings’ offensive line in the middle of the pack heading into this year. That’s better. By a lot.
There’s also a saying – or at least it should be one: Don’t trust what you see in preseason.