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The Minnesota Vikings, as a front-office entity, do not blatantly ignore the offensive line. A criticism of general manager Rick Spielman is that he has “done nothing” about the offensive trenches. This is false.

Spielman has taken corrective measures to fix the Vikings longstanding pass-blocking malady. But most remedies have not worked out per plan. In 2012, Spielman scooped tackle Matt Kalil out of the draft’s 1st Round. Kalil was tremendous – for a single season. After his Pro Bowl rookie campaign, his performance shockingly plummeted, and he was a total non-factor by 2016. Kalil called it quits in 2017. 

So, because Kalil was a 1st-Round expenditure, his flat-liningset the offensive line back substantially. Minnesota did not draft an offensive lineman in the 1st-Round until seven years later with Garrett Bradbury in 2019.

The draft was not completely neglected, though. Spielman chose the following men after Kalil to fix the trenches with 4th-Round or higher draft capital: T.J. Clemmings, Willie Beavers, Pat Elflein, Brian O’Neill, Dru Samia, Ezra Cleveland, and the aforementioned Bradbury. Most of those characters did not last long. 

Even with free-agent gambles on Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, the offensive line routinely scrapes the bottom of the NFL for pass-protection acumen. 

And if the Vikings could – once and for all – stabilize the pass protection, Kirk Cousins would be even more deadly.

Clean Pocket Numbers

Like any human being flinging the football surrounded by 21 other men, Cousins is a better passer when he has a clean pocket and subsequent time to throw. Such precious time is not usually afforded to Cousins with the Vikings. Therefore, his statistical output is in spite of, not because of his pass protection. It’s not a good mix, and it should not be this way. 

During the rare circumstances that Cousins has a clean pocket, he is deadly and among the NFL’s best quarterbacks. 

Ordinarily inside NFL echo chambers, a grouping like this with Cousins present inspires a case of the “yeah-buts” from naysayers. The company Cousins holds here is phenomenal, so the stat works for Mahomes, Watson, and Rodgers. But the legitimacy of the PFF score is faulty for Cousins. The othersearned the grade – PFF was just mistaken when tabulating Cousins’ score. 

This self-pretzel tying is prevalent with Cousins’ detractors. Point to the supremacy of “QB Wins” as a stat for Mahomes and then compare it to Cousins. Mahomes blows Cousins out of the water. Compare any quarterback’s win-loss record to Matthew Stafford, and the “well, Stafford played in Detroit” rationalities flood the conversation. Yet, we are not allowed to do that for Cousins in Washington. Only men like Stafford get the benefit of the doubt. Strange. 

Regardless, the clean-pocket stat proves the quixotic success Cousins would encounter with average-or-better pass blocking.

Pass-Protecting Troubles Persist

Poor pass blocking is a Minnesota theme since head coach Mike Zimmer showed up on the purple scene.

The one season it was close to not-horrible, the Vikings were within a few hours of hosting Super Bowl LII. Funny how that works.

What’s more, the Vikings accomplished the 13-3 storybook campaign with a career backup quarterback at the helm in Case Keenum. Per raw statistics, PFF, wins and losses – you name it – Cousins is a better NFL quarterback than Keenum. Cousins may not tug at heartstrings as did Keenum in 2017, but he does physically play better on a consistent basis.

Get Cousins a pass-protecting line that is better than 10th-worst in the league. The franchise almost did it for Keenum. 

Productive – Even with Poor O-Line Play

Why? Because Cousins dishes out commendable production in the face of shoddy pass blocking. Imagine what he could do during a season that he was predominantly upright and not on the run or in the turf. He’d be lethal. Vikings enthusiasts have seen Cousins with clean pockets only here and there in Minnesota. It’s like a Bigfoot sighting. 

Full disclosure: The Vikings run blocking is quite impressive. Often, the offensive line is lambasted as “the line always stinks.” But it is the pass protection that gives Minnesotans fits – not the run-blocking acumen. How do you think Dalvin Cook and Adrian Peterson gash[ed] the league every year? Personal wherewithal and help from friends – the run-blocking sect of the offensive line.

Overall, though, stabilize the Vikings pass blocking up front, and Cousins’ clockwork 30 touchdowns per season can become 35-45 annually.

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2 months ago

Great article! If the Vikings could just replace Dozier with either a first round pick or a high quality free agent their overall pass blocking would improve dramatically. Bradbury would still get bullied occasionally, Cleveland might still make mistakes, and Reiff might slip some, but let’s plug the most egregious hole in the line this year. Cleveland could also get better in his second year (players usually do, outside of Khalil). That would be good for 2-3 wins next year.

2 months ago

Cousins basically gotta be able to play catch with his receivers, can’t make plays can’t use his legs. Sure he has a good arm but you need more than a good arm to go anywhere in the nfl, he just doesn’t work for the Vikings, he’s really not that good