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Film review: Vikings’ Elflein is a game changer

You can’t overstate how big the difference has been between the 2016 Minnesota Vikings offensive line and the 2017 version. At the center of the turnaround – literally – has been rookie Pat Elflein, a third-round pick out of Ohio State whose mobility, run blocking skill and toughness have transformed the Vikings’ offense.

Take for example the Vikings’ short passing game. Last season, running back Jerick McKinnon averaged just 4.3 yards per catch on throws behind the line of scrimmage. This year, he’s up to 6.4 per catch, grabbing 25 passes behind the line and gaining 161 yards. Case Keenum has thrown 64.4 percent of his total attempts either behind the line or under 10 yards. Many of those throws have required Elflein to use his mobility to block in space.

On the second play from scrimmage against the Cincinnati Bengals, Elflein made his presence felt after missing last week’s game against the Carolina Panthers. On a screen pass to Latavius Murray, guard Nick Easton lets the defensive tackle go and hits the linebacker No. 50. Elflein turns up field and looks for somebody to hit. If No. 36 gets away from Elflein, it might be a 10-yard gain at best. Instead, Keenum picks up a 28-yard completion because Elflein eliminates the safety (and Laquon Treadwell does a nice job blocking the corner).

Against the Panthers, the Vikings struggled to run the ball up the middle. They did not have that problem with Elflein back in the lineup.

Some of the best things Elflein does are subtle. We’ve slowed down the play below to show one of the smaller, but important, points. It’s clear that Elflein’s job is to get out to block the linebacker No. 57 – which he does nicely, knocking him back several yards. But before the Vikings’ rookie takes on his man, he first uses his left arm to help guard Nick Easton with the defensive tackle. That little bit of help gives Easton and opportunity to slide underneath the DT and turn his feet.

Murray sees the bigger hole on his left, so he cuts back and picks up six yards. Notice at the end of the play you see Elflein finish his block. He doesn’t just knock the LB backward, he follows him all the way to the ground.

There is no chance in the world that Elflein would win NFC Rookie of the Year because of his position, but he’s been as valuable to the Vikings as any other skill rookie in the league.

Another play that stood out on the game film was Stefon Diggs’ 20-yard touchdown. It encapsulates a lot of the Vikings’ success in Pat Shurmur’s passing game and his usage of Adam Thielen and Diggs.

Diggs and Thielen line up next to each other on the right side of the formation with Laquon Treadwell outside. Diggs runs a skinny post, while Treadwell runs a hitch and Thielen goes short over the middle.

Diggs runs at the outside shoulder of the corner back, forcing him to respect a potential fade route. Then the Vikings’ receiver sticks his foot in the ground and breaks toward the middle. Diggs’ usage of the corner’s leverage gave him a free path to break up field.

Meanwhile, Case Keenum keeps his eyes in the middle of the field, holding the safety in place. Diggs is already into his break by the time the safety realizes what’s happening.

Here the full play:

The bottom line: It’s certainly fair to avoid overhyping a win over a downtrodden Cincinnati team, but Elflein’s presence in the middle has been huge for the Vikings’ offense all season. The juxtaposition of the Carolina loss and Cincinnati win made that even more clear. Also, the Vikings will head into the playoffs knowing they have an effective offensive scheme with a great play caller. They also go with two of the best receivers in the NFL. Diggs’ footwork and use of leverage on this play showed why he’s so difficult to stop.

  • Paul Morrison

    And Keenum fired a laser beam to Diggs that traveled 28 yards in the air before the safety could get over to stop it. No way Bridgewater makes that throw. It would have been a rainbow and an interception.

    • badzeitgeist

      I won’t go as far as to say Teddy can’t make that throw, but that was one hell of a throw by Keenum. No one who saw the placement and delivery on that one should doubt he is capable of being a starter.

    • Jack Morgeson

      TB made the exact same throw against NYG on Sunday night football in 2015…to Rudolph… perfect strike…..

      • Paul Morrison

        I just watched it. TB’s was actually a couple of yards longer in the air. It looked to arc a little more and wobble a little more, but it’s close enough that I can’t argue. I retract my statement. I guess it just seems to me like TB throws rainbows more often. I would love a Sports Science episode comparing the two arms.

        • Gordon Guffey

          I totally agree Paul on this ~

          {{{{ I would love a Sports Science episode comparing the two arms }}}}

          Far to much us fans and reports dont get to see in training campOTA’swork throughout the week in preseason and then the season~

      • Bradley Enno

        I was in the stands great game… cold as hell but great game

    • linus

      **sigh**… I simply can’t understand why some people find it impossible to say something good about Keenum without taking a swipe at Bridgewater.

      • Paul Morrison

        Because there are choices to be made for 2018.

        • linus

          And just how much influence will your opinion have on that decision?

          • Paul Morrison

            And just how much influence will your opinion have on my opinion?

      • Gordon Guffey

        And vice versa linus and this isn’t pointed at you ~ I will say IMHO there are far to many question marks about every QB on the roster based on what we fans get to see ~ From One Year Wonder to Knees ~

      • Jakob D Whitlock

        Ya but I think what he’s trying to say is that keenum did something great and it doesn’t require you taking a swipe at teddy. I also don’t really see where you can say it would’ve been a rainbow and a pick. Sometimes a touch passer is actually what you want. Just try to maybe compliment case, without having to tear someone else down. It’s a super negative way of looking at guys that play for our team. You should hope they both play extremely well.

    • Tom Gerber

      What a complete crock of a comment. 100% wrong.

      • tk6

        Absolutely agree with you Thomas!! How can you even make that statement when we haven’t seen Teddy throw in a game for 2 years, outside of his 2 passes Sunday?!?!? I remember Teddy threw some great passes in the December game against the Bears in Chicago 2015, Van Morrison must’ve not seen them?

      • I’m a Teddy supporter, but he doesn’t have near the velocity that Keenum has. That ball was thrown on a rope into such a tight window with no room for error. Any slower of a delivery and it would have been knocked down or intercepted.

        • Gordon Guffey

          Tight coverage is where Case has really improved over his 5 years in the NFL ~

        • Jakob D Whitlock

          You know the speed of deliveth and ball velocity are 2 different things Right? Teddy actually has pretty good velocity on midrange passes. I think you guys are assuming he has no velocity because he doesn’t throw the deep ball well. It’s never been that he doesn’t have any arm strength at all, it’s always been that he loses accuracy on deep balls. And speed of delivery is how long it takes for you to wind up and get the ball out of your hand, and I’m not sure how it applies here

    • Matt

      I’m not going to take the time to find the video but Teddy literally threw a TD pass to Rudolph just like this against the Giants in 2015. Teddy’s deep ball accuracy is definitely a question mark but his velocity has always been great. That is why he has always been so effective throwing passes in the 12-20 yard range. Keenum has a very similar skillset when it comes to throwing the ball and also struggles with his deepball touch. Keenum has underthrown too many deep balls just like Teddy used to seem to always over or underthrow on deep touch passes. To me the Bridgewater, Keenum debate is really tough because I think they are both very similar players. How Keenum handles the playoffs will ultimately decide 2018 IMO.

      • Bradley Enno

        Teddy threw alot of passes like this in 2015 (when the offensive line rarely did their job) Case is awesome no need to bash teddy wish him well next .. his best bet is to take a paycut and be backup

  • Steve Anderson

    Center is the most under-appreciated position in the game for most fans. Without a good center, you simply cannot run the ball consistently.

    • Drediock

      And most people dont realize that its one of the most difficult positions to play on either side of the ball.
      Forget all the mental responsibilities and being basically the leader of the line for a minute and just consider the physical job. You have an often huge or at least really big strong and really really fast off the ball defender that even if he isnt guessing the count is going to charge across at even the slightest ball movement. Now you arent like the other linemen who can just blow into and engage the defender at the snap of the ball. You have an extra step you have to take first. You have to in the blink of an eye while bent over in a prone position snap the ball on time and on target securely into a QBS hands and then be fast enough to get back and into your blocking assignment before that lightning fast off the ball defender can knock you on your ass or blow past you. Now add all the mental responsibilities of making line adjustments etc on top of that.
      If there is a position that is underrepresented in the MVP voting. It most certainly would be Center

  • wdnemesis

    Pat Elflein is a great Center. I noticed he does not stop, he was up there making critical block that helped gain at least 5 extra yards which is huge. I was shocked that I did not notice his name for the Pro-Bowl. He will be one of the best centers in the NFL soon.

  • Carl Rasmussen

    Great stuff. Is it possible to make all the videos “slow motion?” They are much easier to understand!

  • Gordon Guffey

    Coller said ~

    There is no chance in the world that Elflein would win NFC Rookie of the Year because of his position, but he’s been as valuable to the Vikings as any other skill rookie in the league.

    I couldn’t agree more ~ Well done Mr. Coller with the slow down video ~

    Elflein reminds me a lot of Birk ~ Hopefully he becomes as good and plays as long while finishing his career as a Viking ~

    • Bob T.

      Well said and completely agree. I actually wanted Elf in the draft but figured him suited as a guard who could pull. This worked out much better than I thought it would.

    • Travis Miller

      I think losing that first round pick for bradford isnt even notice able. Cook drops to the second and pat in the third is the same as cook in the first pat in thr second and missing on a 3rd round prospect…….which happens all the time

      • Gordon Guffey

        I agree Travis ~ I also dont blame Spielman for trying to save a season by trading for Bradford who had stayed healthy for him last year with the Rams and his one year with the Eagles ~ Had Teddy gotten hurt before the 2015 trade they would have surely used that 1st on a QB because of the magnitude of Teddy’s injury ~ And before any Teddy Only fans jump the gun please remember the young man had just come close to losing him leg per reports from this fine site and others like NFL Network and vikings.com ~ The face that Teddy was even able to come in and get a little playing time is nothing short of a miracle ~ I tip my hat to the young man for the effort he has put in just to be able to make it back to the active roster ~

  • rick

    Last year if one guy missed a block…it was a guaranteed sack. This year our quarterback makes that guy miss.

  • Cman

    Elflein is a beast. He has a motor that doesn’t shut down until he reaches the locker room at the end of the game. I haven’t seen a rookie that has made such an impact on this team since 2007 when we drafted AD. To think we could have had 2 of these stories this year had Cook not been injured. With that said, couldn’t be happier with how McKinnon and Murray picked the run game up since then.

    It’s the entire OL that has fed off each other that makes this so special. Easton was solid for us at center last year, and has been the same at LG this year. Reiff has had a rebirth at LT since his early days in Detroit. Berger is Berger, he is just solid for us, and while Remmers has been solid while he is in there, it’s Hill who has held down the RT position, then he does it at LT this past Sunday. This is a guy that we plucked off the Jaguars practice squad. The OL will be solid for years to come with these additions. Nice job Spielman and company.

  • Greg Toney

    Elflein was really missed in the game at Carolina. This man is the real deal and I’m glad he is a Viking. SKOL!

  • 3kolu

    Missing Elflein, Remmers and with Riley Rieff getting injured vs the Panther’s you could see what an impact these acquisitions have made all season.

  • Pete

    Best center we’ve had since Birk

  • William Abene Jr

    I’d like to make the case for Case. People question Case’s talent, his ceiling as a player. The little undrafted guy. That he’s getting by because of his soon to be head coach offensive coordinator. His supporting cast. He’s making a living on dinks, dunks and YAC. Not too many mentions of the bullet Case fires in the face of pressure on the money to Diggs for a touchdown in Cincy. This year 64.4% of his throws have been for 10 yards or less. I checked around the league and Case appears middle of the pack in this stat. Some examples from the longer throwers to the short: T. Brady 59.88%, A Rodgers 60.5%, M Ryan 62.28%, C Wentz 63.41%, A Smith 66.74%, D Brees 69.67% and S Bradford last year 71.55%. I also checked A Rodgers from 2008 his 4th year in the league and first as a full time starter and his #?…68.65%. Case’s again? 64.4%. I definitely wouldn’t call Case a dink and dunker. We don’t hear it mentioned much that Case holds many of college football’s career passing records. The guy is a football player. He has plus pocket presence, plus mobility, plus smarts and preparation and a good enough arm. Add to that a bulldog mentality and willingness to make the big play. If he was a couple of inches taller he may have been a 1st round pick. I think the Vikings have stumbled on to their quarterback of the future. Hey and this guy isn’t a shrimp he is 1 inch taller and 30 lbs heavier than Fran Tarkenton.. . I like gamers and this guy isn’t going to get all pouty like Cam Newton when things don’t go his way. People are all fascinated with flashy talent and forget that you have to be able to play the game.

  • mysterygueststar

    Just had to put in my 2 cents worth, and generally agree with all of the comments in the thread. Amore or less 180 for the O-line this season. Injury-plagued last year…AND IT SHOWED. Basically, that’s why we ended up 8-8. It’s all good. The addition of Remmers, Reiff (is a beast when he’s 100%)…BTW, if anyone knows the status of #71, please post it PRIOR to kickoff Saturday night. I know Shaaron’s on IR…still, I think a W @ Lambeau is always sweet…KNOCK ON WOOD!!

    As for Big Pat, it is a disgrace that O-linemen are always left in the shadows when it comes time for ROY voting. This BEAST from THE Ohio St. University, albeit the aforementioned lineman, is, IMHO, a LOCK for ROY. There hasn’t been a center in my memory for many seasons that has such a huge impact on the entire remainder of the line. Just judging from the caliber the man is playing, I’d venture to say he’s headed to Canton. Yeah, FAR too soon to say for sure…(refer to beginning of sentence.) I LOVE this guy. He’s just sheer joy to watch on the purple and gold’s O-line. As many have said, the best since Birk, and headed straight in that direction. Y’all know the old saying that great receivers make great QB’s? I’m pretty sure that same proverb has rubbed off on Minnesota’s O-line. SWEeeeeTT! I’m givin’ it ALL I have…Hoping & praying that Big #65 stays healthy…AND THAT rubs off on the rest of the line, too.

    What can you say about Case that hasn’t already been said? Snagging him was the best move the Vikings made in the whole of 2017! Here’s one thing that I haven’t read or heard about him…to my knowledge, anyway. How about the #1 pick for Comeback Player of the Year? I like it. He’s a real baller in our purple and gold. Looks to me like he’s really enjoying it, too.

    This squad is TOUGH. They give 60 minutes EVERY week. Spielman, Coach Zimmer, Coach Shurmur, Coach Edwards, & Coach Priefer have held together a really good looking team for us to enjoy this year. I don’t even have to ask if anyone else here has not. Pretty much been all smiles…and we

    • Bob T.

      Hello old friend. Hope you are doing well. It truly has been a joyful Viking season. One thing to add, Elf leading the group to the line and calling blocking scheme audibles if necessary. So much fun to watch. Merry Christmas to you and yours my Viking brother.

      • mysterygueststar

        Got that right, old buddy. When you have a ROOK center calling assignments / audibles, and that line has the success ours has had this season, Brother, THAT tells you a lot about the talent and savvy OF that rookie C. SKOL my Viking Brother and friend. Happy Holidays to you and yours as well. All I want for Christmas…( I want in February ) is the Lombardi Trophy and a bunch of rings for our Vikings! SKOL Zim! ( COY ) SKOL VIKINGS!!

    • Bob T.

      Ooops and Reiff listed as Questionable. SKOL

  • mysterygueststar

    Had to return with just a quick note. Coach Zim should be running in the Top 2 or 3 for Coach of the Year!! SKOL Zim Tsu! SKOL VIKINGS!!

  • sandbun

    Does anyone understand why is it that PFF has Elfein ranked so low? It certainly doesn’t match what I’ve been seeing.
    “Elflein has had a rough rookie season, he has graded poorly in both the pass (42.7) and run game (46.1). Both grades rank in the bottom 10 among centers. He has the third-lowest pass-blocking efficiency of any center in 2017 at 96.0, as he has allowed 23 total pressures on 456 pass-blocking snaps.”
    https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/pro-nfl-week-16-preview-vikings-at-packers

    • mysterygueststar

      @sandbun: Read that CRAP article. Guess that’s why PFF has to CHARGE MONEY to anyone that wants to be gullible enough to believe all of their diatribe. I don’t give a rat’s a$$ what THEIR numbers say, all I know is that our O-line has performed exceptionally well during the course of this entire season. Yeah, there’s been some downer moments, but show me an NFL squad that says they DON’T have them, and I’ll show you a lying squad.

      In the 13 games Elflein has started for the Vikings at center in 2017, he has been (dis) credited with FOUR sacks, and has had ONE penalty called against him. Considering the sheer caliber of play he adds to an O-line that so desperately needed it…with plenty of game film and awards while @ OSU to back that caliber up, IMHO, PFF can take their version of “stats” and use them to critique Cleveland. We’re 11-3, clinched the NFC North, and perhaps looking at a 1st round bye. The Vikings certainly do not find themselves in this position because of poor play from Big Elf! Ask Case if that huge a$$ he’s had his hands under all season…if #65 has played poorly. Duh! SKOL VIKINGS!!





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