Eight snaps into Sunday’s game, the Vikings — already down starting left guard Nick Easton — lost right tackle Mike Remmers to a concussion and allowed a 26-yard touchdown run to the Browns.
A few hours later…
“I thought the offensive line, they continue to be a strength for us,” head coach Mike Zimmer said.
Strength is a welcomed response to offensive line injuries for these Vikings, already thinned of a key passer and runner in the backfield. On Sunday a winless Browns team, banged up on their own defensive line, provided an ample opportunity for the Vikings to see key offensive line reserves, tackle Rashod Hill and guard Danny Isidora, in action. Just in case any of their starters miss more time.
There were plenty of errors to clean up with both Hill and Isidora, but the Vikings sustained drives to score 33 points in the win.
“I think they did pretty good,” Zimmer said. “There were a couple misses they had. Overall, I thought Isidora played well. Rashod played good. He’s got to continue to work on some of the things in the run game and put his body on people. But I thought Isidora, for the first time coming in, played well. It’s great to see to have some depth on the offensive line.”
What the Vikings have in Hill and Isidora are two young, physically imposing, yet unrefined, talents. Publicly, Zimmer was pretty kind to Isidora, the 23-year-old rookie who looks (6-3, 306) like he belongs on an NFL field. But the fifth-round pick and Vikings’ third left guard took his lumps, however understandable, against the Browns.
Against a Browns team missing its top pass rusher, Myles Garrett, Hill didn’t provide much of a drop off in pass protection. Hill’s biggest pass pro blunders came on a holding call, and he may get pegged for the lone sack on Case Keenum, which was caused by a busted tight end screen.
Let’s take a look at Hill’s day, a potential key moving forward should either Remmers (concussion) or left tackle Riley Reiff (knee) miss more time after the Vikings’ 33-16 win against the Browns. Here to help is Dan Hatman, a former NFL scout and Director of Scouting Development at The Scouting Academy. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @Dan_Hatman.
Run blocking has been Hill’s primary issue when stepping in for an injured Vikings tackle. The Vikings struggled to do much running Sunday, gaining just 88 yards on 34 carries [2.6 avg]. On this inside run in the red zone, Hill is isolated against Browns defensive end Carl Nassib. This play breaks down as left tackle Riley Reiff appears to slip and, as Hatman notes, Hill doesn’t get enough of Nassib on the initial punch.
“It looks like they want to get the ball in the weakside B gap and Hill will need to seal the defensive end out,” Hatman said. “The entire offensive line takes an aggressive, upfield path and Hill loses Nassib. This seems like an aiming point issue. With Hill firing upfield and not getting enough of Nassib to make solid contact, he loses his man.”
Schemes can be adjusted to give and take help away from offensive linemen. This inside zone run slanted toward Hill’s side gives him the easier double team with guard Joe Berger. The two drive back end Emmanuel Ogbah, giving space for Jerick McKinnon’s five-yard run. As Hatman notes, Browns tackle Danny Shelton (55) takes away McKinnon’s backside options after sidestepping center Pat Elflein and beating Isidora.
“This is one of those reasons coaches have expressed an affinity for inside zone or duo plays: you get doubles on the down linemen,” Hatman said. “Hill and Berger fit this fairly well, getting shoulder to shoulder and driving Ogbah back to the playside linebacker. The 2-on-1 scenario makes it way easier to get movement, especially if the offensive line get their pads down and hips together. [Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton] stunts to the other A gap post-snap, making it almost impossible for Elfein to get a hand on while staying on track. Isidora just did not look ready to engage physically and Shelton took away all the backside options.”
He’s a big Hill to climb in pass pro. Being 6-foot-6 and 309 pounds with long arms means Hill shouldn’t be driven back into his quarterback. When he gets moving in the right direction, he can carry an opponent out of the play — even if he gets away with a little holding like he did on this Keenum incompletion. By one reporter’s count, Hill allowed one sack, one hit and two hurries, which isn’t a bad day on 40 pass pro snaps. Hatman notes the little mistakes, however, made here by Hill, including a potential misalignment and being late off the snap.
“Hill’s initial alignment catches my eye, he is closer to the [line] than Berger, which can help with short/jump setting, but typically you align off the guard’s hip if you want to gain depth in your set,” Hatman said. “So the alignment, coupled with being late off the snap give Ogbah the advantage. Hill opens his hips to keep up, narrows his base and has to work hard to carry him around the arc. When Ogbah finally does clear his hip, Hill is left holding him.”
Communication is an unheralded trait of good offensive line units. And the Vikings have improved upon theirs this season, despite reaching deep into the depth chart. As the Browns threaten with a wide pass rush on both tackles, they check into a half slide away from where McKinnon is positioned to help, which Hatman notes. Watch Reiff calmly identify his defender as the two Browns defensive backs twist off left tackle. McKinnon, an underrated pass protector at his size, picks off his man and Hill holds up Ogbah on the back end.
“The Vikings end up working a half-line slide away from the pressure, but the man side of their protection does a good job,” Hatman said. “Isidora handles Nassib’s stunt into the A gap and Reiff and McKinnon have to pick up the two blitzers. McKinnon looks like he is waiting for Reiff to take the ‘most dangerous’ and then he’ll take whoever is left, so when Reiff protects the interior of the pocket by picking up the B-gap blitzer, McKinnon is in fine shape to widen Kindred and give Keenum time to throw. Quality stuff.”