Halfway through the season, the Minnesota Vikings are in prime position to win the NFC North and make a playoff run. Thanks in large part to a revamped offensive line.
The biggest concern coming into this season was the state of the Minnesota Vikings offensive line. After a horrendous 2016 season that saw the likes of T.J. Clemmings start a majority of games at left tackle, there were very few times the offensive line gave quarterback Sam Bradford a clean pocket. Sadly, the run blocking may have been worse given Minnesota finished dead last in rushing.
So, heading into the offseason, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer knew they’d have to address the line. In response, they signed big-money free agent deals with tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to the dislike of many. In addition, they drafted center Pat Elflein and guard Danny Isidora in hopes of adding depth to the unit.
The reshaping of the offensive line didn’t stop there though. After the preseason, the Vikings let go of Clemmings and starting left guard Alex Boone. Cutting Boone was a surprise at the time given the large investment they made on him as a free agent in 2016. Nevertheless, the results have turned out far better than anyone could have imagined.
With a starting unit of Reiff, Nick Easton, Elflein, Joe Berger and Remmers, the turnaround has simply been phenomenal. Most impressively, backups Jeremiah Sirles, Rashod Hill and Isidora haven’t missed a beat when pressed into action over the last couple of weeks due to injuries.
Against the Cleveland Browns, Easton and Sirles were out, giving Isidora his first career start at left guard. Additionally, Remmers exited early with a concussion and was replaced by Hill. Even so, the offensive line kept Case Keenum clean for most of the game and did well enough in the run game to keep the defense honest.
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While many thought the line would be a project over the next couple of seasons, one has to wonder if the pieces are already in place through eight games. They have four young, promising linemen in Elflein, Easton, Hill and Isidora. Yet, they have a good mix of veterans in Berger, Sirles, Reiff and Remmers too. In fact, Reiff and Remmers have been in the top half of tackles, ranking 29th and 14th, respectively, by Pro Football Focus.
Altogether, they mesh well. So far, the line has given up only 10 sacks and heads the seventh ranked rushing attack to date. For a revamped unit, they’ve turned the Vikings’ offensive line fortunes around fast, leading the Vikings to a 6-2 start.
While many felt the Vikings would go downhill without Bradford and Dalvin Cook, the offensive line’s consistency has helped overcome those blows to the offense. By doing so, Case Keenum has been given the time to make big throws, while getting an efficient run game from Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray. In the end, that equals success for any team, especially one with an elite defense.
Of course, there’s still a ways to go in the season, but the line is clearly deeper and better than it was last year. If they continue playing at this level, there’s no reason to believe they can’t win the NFC North and make a playoff run, hopefully ending in a Super Bowl appearance at U.S. Bank Stadium. At the least, they deserve credit for a great start to the season! Skol Vikes!