Within an impressive Vikings season-opening victory Sunday there are some concerning things lurking — particularly when it comes to the offensive line. How will that influence what could be a rare defensive battle Sunday between the Vikings and Packers?
First take: Michael Rand
Weekly grades from Pro Football Focus should always be consumed with somewhere between a grain and bucket of salt, of course. I mean the Vikings’ Everson Griffen, who looked to have had a very good game Sunday and was praised by Mike Zimmer, only graded as PFF’s 70th-best defensive end last weekend.
We don’t know exactly what these players were being asked to do on specific plays.
But listen: Even in the small passing game sample size and even with the requisite PFF disclaimer, the numbers are troubling.
The Vikings graded dead last among 32 teams, by a large margin, in pass blocking. Rookie center Garrett Bradbury had a pass blocking grade of zero (out of 100). Ouch. He was going against one of the NFL’s best, Falcons DT Grady Jarrett, who not coincidentally had the highest grade last week of any interior defensive lineman.
Andrew Krammer, Vikings writer: Yeah, those weren’t a clean 10 throws by Kirk Cousins, who should shoulder blame for the hit that was ruled a fumble then overturned into an incomplete pass. Cousins missed Falcons safety Keanu Neal as an unblocked blitzer; he needs to throw “hot” there and get rid of the ball.
Bradbury was tabbed as a hyper-athletic big man who needs to anchor better. We saw that against the Falcons. He quickly blocked downfield on a 9-yard screen to Chad Beebe for a first down. He was also bullied into the backfield on multiple occasions, and botched an exchange with Cousins.
The Packers, and defensive tackle Kenny Clark, certainly noticed. The other problem is Green Bay’s new edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, who will require a lot of attention from the Vikings’ protection schemes. If Bradbury doesn’t get much help at Lambeau, he’ll have to mature quickly in his first NFC North game.
Rand: Another thing to keep an eye on with offensive line play: offensive holding was a point of emphasis for referees heading into the season, and that played out in Week 1. There was a significant uptick in offensive holding calls during the first week of 2019 compared to an average week in 2018, according to nflpenalties.com.
The Vikings had just one accepted offensive holding call against them in Week 1 (Green Bay had two), but if the game is being called tighter in the trenches it’s going to be even harder for Vikings blockers to keep defenders at bay.
Krammer: Everson Griffen got ahead of that one this week, talking up Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari before adding, “He’s a good holder,” with a laugh. In all seriousness, I’m liking the Vikings’ chances if the defense isn’t hurt too badly by the loss of slot corner Mackensie Alexander. Their coverage against Atlanta’s receivers really helped the pass rush.
The defense’s key will be much like what the Bears did against the Packers in Week 1: Stop the run and get after Aaron Rodgers in obvious passing situations. The Vikings sacked Rodgers eight times in two games last year.
Rand: I’ll take the Vikings, 4-2.
Final word: Krammer
Ha! If Zimmer liked a 10-throw win last Sunday, I can only imagine his delight with a 4-2 win. Defense scores twice and no kickers needed.