No Rest For The Weary: Chandler Jones Presents a Unique Challenge
For the most part, Vikings fans have grown accustomed to seeing our offensive line being overwhelmed. Even still, Sunday’s performance was disappointing. The penalties were so abundant that I was holding my breathe on seemingly any positive Vikings play. It’s an issue that needs to get fixed in a hurry.
Thankfully, penalties are mostly fixable. A lack of talent, on the other hand, is a considerably more challenging obstacle.
On Sunday, we’ll be facing the Arizona Cardinals. Worse yet, the game is on the road. During the offseason, I predicted a Vikings loss because Arizona’s strengths align with our weaknesses. They have an elite pair of edge rushers; we have a leaky sieve of an offensive line. If I was Kirk, I’d plan on keeping my head on a swivel.
Minnesota’s performance against Cincinnati did little to assuage my concerns. Arizona’s performance against Tennessee similarly raised concerns.
Chandler Jones was matched up against Taylor Lewan, who is widely regarded as one of the NFL’s best tackles. It should be a pretty good matchup, right? Wrong. Per PFF, Lewan is currently the 67th tackle out of 68 players. He has a dismal 24.1 pass blocking score. That’s what happens when Jones gets home for 5 (!) sacks.
Lewan was a first round selection in 2014. Since that time, he has distinguished himself as a high-end offensive lineman. In 2016, he was PFF‘s 3rd-best tackle. From 2017-19, he was top 20 every year. Last year, he had an injury-shortened season. The expectation is that he’ll rebound for a strong 2021 season. That may still happen, but Jones destroyed him on Sunday. Jones is currently PFF‘s top-ranked edge rusher. Let’s not forget that J.J. Watt is starting opposite Jones, so it’s not like Brian O’Neill is going to have an easy day.
How is Rashod Hill going to hold up against Jones on Sunday? Frankly, not very well unless he gets some significant help.
Yesterday, Josh wrote about Klint Kubiak’s first game as a play caller. For the most part, Josh is positive in his outlook: “Arizona will certainly bring a test this weekend and should be viewed as a threat, but by no means is it panic time. If Minnesota plays fundamental football and gets back to what we’re used to seeing from the offense, this game is winnable.” I largely agree with what he’s saying. If we take care of our own business, we’ve got a shot to win.
That being said, there are some legit reasons to be concerned. The discrepancy between the pass and run is a major problem that needs to be fixed. If we’re in predictable passing situations, Jones is going to be all over Kirk. We therefore need to get ahead of the sticks early and often. Integrate Alexander Mattison more to help keep Cook fresh.
From there, Lil’Kub needs to do a much, much better job of helping Kirk on passing plays. We didn’t run play action nearly enough. We also need to be running more bootlegs and screens. These are plays that will not only keep Kirk alive but also the defense off balance.
Consider the bootleg. The beauty of it is that it gets the defense moving in the wrong direction. At the same time, it allows the QB to get more space to pass since he’s not simply sitting back in the pocket. It also makes things simpler insofar as it cuts the field in half. Rather than working through a progression across the entire field, the QB has the luxury of merely considering his options on the one side. The ability for easier mental processing is a good thing when a player like Jones is on your heels.
If Lil’Kub doesn’t do considerably more to help his offense, Chandler Jones will likely destroy Rashod Hill. Jones will then, in turn, destroy Kirk. In all likelihood, that’ll mean starting 0-2. I know it’s a long season, but that’s a tough hole to climb out of.
Let’s hope our young OC has some tricks up his sleeve.
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