After the Minnesota Vikings’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Mike Zimmer gave his offensive line a vote of confidence.
“I really respect the offensive line and the things they do because they’re in my opinion they’re tough guys,” Zimmer said on October 10. “They work real hard. They don’t say ‘boo’ they just keep fighting. They’re getting better every day and that’s what we have to do as a football team.”
Over the last two weeks in wins over the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets, the offensive line proved their head coach to be correct despite missing left tackle Riley Reiff in both games and starting left guard Tom Compton for the majority of Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium.
Against the Jets, the Vikings allowed just nine pressures on 45 total drop backs by Kirk Cousins, per Pro Football Focus. To put that in context, Minnesota’s O-line gave up 33 pressures on 61 drop backs against Buffalo and 30 on 58 in Los Angeles. The Jets and Cardinals have totaled just 23 in the last two weeks.
Rookie Brian O’Neill continued his success filling in as the starting right tackle. He gave up just two pressures against the Cardinals and only one in the Vikings’ 37-17 victory.
“I thought he played well yesterday, physical, much better in pass protection, good in the running game, I thought he did well,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings have also started to create holes for explosive runs. The last two weeks have pushed them into third place in the NFL in rushes of more than 10 yards. Playing a significant role in that improvement is Pat Elflein, who missed the first two games and was limited in Week 3.
“He’s doing really well, I thought he played well yesterday,” Zimmer said on Monday.
Zimmer praised backup Danny Isidora, who filled in for Compton, for a block he made on a big gain on Sunday.
“He did some good things in the running game, decent in the passing game,” Zimmer said of Isidora.
Whether they can keep protecting Cousins and creating big runs is yet to be seen, but there are signs the Vikings could remain capable up front. Elflein’s presence, for starters, and the possibility that O’Neill will remain at right tackle following the return of Reiff. It was clear that the Vikings’ starting left tackle has not been healthy since injuring his foot Week 3. Resting him the last two weeks could pay dividends long term.
Quality of competition will matter, too. Pro Football Focus ranks the Saints as having the 11th best pass rush in the NFL. New Orleans’ defensive line is highlighted by one of the best players in the NFL in Cameron Jordan.
Following New Orleans, the Vikings will see one of the worst and then one of the best pass rushes in the league in Detroit (27th by PFF) and Chicago (fourth).
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said last week the Vikings’ offensive line has shown an ability to battle through tough times, dating back to the beginning of training camp when offensive line coach Tony Sparano passed away.
“Those guys are a really resilient group,” DeFilippo said. “Obviously, there’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Tony, that Tony’s name comes up. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Tony, probably not an hour that goes by. Those guys are a resilient group and they’ve done the best that they can in handling that situation and it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been easy, but those guys are doing a good job.”