While outscoring opponents by an average of 9.5 points during a 4-0 start, two major concerns have emerged for the Vikings, who obviously have still been winning convincingly in spite of them. One is the smallest man on the team. The other weighs more than 1,500 pounds combined.
Kicker Blair Walsh, the little guy, missed another kick in Monday’s 24-10 win over the Giants. In a vacuum, it would be no big deal. It was from 46 yards out and didn’t end up costing the Vikings. But it was the fifth miss for Walsh in four games. His head coach gave him a lukewarm endorsement yesterday and Walsh gave the media terse answers this morning.
With every passing week, it seems less likely that this story is going to end with redemption for Walsh, whose issues appear to be all mental.
For the five big guys on the offensive line, though, their performance against the Giants provided hope that they might still click together.
The Vikings topped 100 rushing yards for the first time this season against a Giants defense that had ranked fifth against the run, with early positive gains helping them avoid difficult 3rd-and-long situations. And quarterback Sam Bradford had enough time to throw on most of his dropbacks. The result was a balanced game from the league’s 31st-ranked offense.
“For the most part we did a nice job up front,” coach Mike Zimmer said yesterday. “I think Sam got us in a lot of good plays [before the snap]. I thought we had a good mixture of the things we were doing.”
Center Joe Berger was again steady, as he has been all season. The two guards sandwiching him, Alex Boone and Brandon Fusco, probably played their best games of 2016 on Monday. Left tackle T.J. Clemmings and right tackle Jeremiah Sirles, filling in for the injured Andre Smith, held their own against Giants pass rushers Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul.
“The repetitions in practice and the drills that [offensive line coach Tony] Sparano is teaching us, we just keep repping and repping and repping and it’s starting to come together,” Fusco said Monday. “You saw some signs of what we can be. It’s a step forward and we have to keep it going.”
Pro Football Focus has graded the offensive line as the third-worst in the league, ahead of only the Seahawks and the Rams through four games. But they, too, acknowledged the results were better Monday night.
With 12 games remaining, there is still plenty of time left for this group to jell, especially if they can manage to go a few weeks without another injury. And if this line can somehow become a strength — that may seem unlikely now, but plenty of teams have gotten more with less — look out.
As for the 170-pound kicker, you should probably look out there, too.