Should the Minnesota Vikings Be Concerned with LT Matt Kalil?

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Should the Minnesota Vikings Be Concerned with LT Matt Kalil?
Jim Mone/Associated Press

A few poor plays from Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil this preseason has some sounding the alarms and others attempting to extinguish the fire of criticism. 

The reality of the situation likely falls somewhere in between the two sides. 

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner did not seem at all concerned when asked about his starting left tackle Tuesday. Quite the opposite, actually.

"I think [Matt] has been really good," Turner said, via the team's official site. "Matt has gotten better each week, and I think he's getting himself ready to have an outstanding year." 

Turner's original point can be debated. 

After a disappointing sophomore season, Kalil has appeared to really struggle at times this preseason. 

Minnesota Vikings LT Matt Kalil, 2014 Preseason
Snaps Pass Snaps Sacks QB Hits QB Hurries
vs. OAK 22 12 1 0 0
vs. ARI 31 19 0 0 1
at KC 39 23 1 1 3
TOTAL 92 54 2 1 4

Source: Pro Football Focus

The No. 4 overall pick in 2012 certainly had his hands full with Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali last Saturday. The Vikings asked Kalil to pass-block on 23 of his 39 snaps in Kansas City, and he responded by allowing one sack, one hit and three hurries, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

Steve Palazzolo of PFF rewound the tape to look at Kalil's struggles against Hali and the Chiefs. He called it "one of his worst games in pass protection in his career." PFF's grading metrics pinned a minus-3.6 grade to Kalil's 23 pass-blocking snaps. 

The film revealed some concerning mishaps. 

On his sack, Hali simply beat Kalil to the outside with speed and then dipped inside to take down Matt Cassel. Later, Kalil allowed a hurry when Hali rather effortlessly sidestepped him to the inside. Finally, Hali used a simple bull rush to disengage, gain outside leverage and then hit Cassel in the pocket. 

NFL Preseason Live
Hali's sack of Matt Cassel.

Turner had his own explanations.

"When you're on the road, in a noisy environment against that player he played against the other night, that's a challenge," Turner said. 

Point taken. Since 2010, Hali has played 31 regular-season home games and tallied 31.5 sacks, which ranks second in the NFL. Only Jared Allen (33.0) has more home sacks during that span. In fact, roughly 68 percent of Hali's 46.5 sacks over the last four seasons have come at home. He's clearly a different pass-rusher at Arrowhead Stadium.

Also, not all pressures are created equal. 

"We didn't give him any help on purpose," Turner said. "One of the plays where we got pressure was not a good play call; we didn't get a good combination route on, so we ended up holding on to the ball too long." 

Turner might be talking about the third-down sack, in which Cassel looks prepared to throw at the top of his drop but never does. More than likely, he's speaking about the play where Cassel has to drift backward in the pocket and then throw hurriedly to his right. Both situations appear like designed quick throws that go awry in the route-running process. 

That said, Kalil's problems look just as much about technique as scheme and offensive execution. 

Hali's speed off the edge and hand-fighting abilities at contact caused the first sack. Regardless of whether Cassel held the ball too long, Kalil was beaten.

On his first hurry allowed, Kalil was grasping at ghosts as Hali stepped inside with an athletic move. He appeared to overcommit to the outside. Matt Asiata did the same and missed his block. Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe actually did more to slow down Hali's pursuit of the quarterback than either Kalil or Asiata

NFL Preseason Live

Hali's quarterback hit was mostly thanks to an unacceptable block attempt from a starting left tackle in the NFL. Kalil did fine moving his feet to the outside, but Hali's contact instantly overwhelmed him. He lost his anchor point, and it was all over from there. 

These aren't new issues. Speed-rushers have generally given Kalil problems, and he's been prone to double moves to the inside. Also, his game has never been rooted in pure power. 

Over almost 100 exhibition snaps, Kalil has allowed two sacks, one quarterback hit and four quarterback hurries. Alone, these numbers could be considered a blip on the radar for a player who looked like he had the makings of a potentially dominant left tackle during his rookie season. 

But Kalil's 2013 season provides the foundation for the concerns raised this preseason. 

The table below shows his regression:

Matt Kalil: 2012 vs. 2013 Seasons
2012 NFL OT Rank* 2013 NFL OT Rank
Sacks 2 4th (tied) 4 12th (tied)
Hits 2 4th (tied) 12 51st (tied)
Hurries 19 13th (tied) 33 40th (tied)
Total Pressures 23 7th 49 42nd (tied)
PB Efficiency 96.8 6th 94.0 34th (tied)

Source: PFF *Qualifers for rank played 50% snaps

After finishing the 2012 season ranked sixth in pass-blocking efficiency at PFF, Kalil plummeted to No. 34 in 2013. He allowed two more sacks, 10 more quarterback hits and 14 more hurries last season—or 26 more total quarterback disruptions. 

Then again, context must be served to those numbers too.

Per Tom Pelissero of ESPN 1500, Kalil battled a bout of pneumonia late in the 2012 season. He entered the 2013 offseason weighing roughly 280 pounds. It took several months before he was back in the 300-pound range. 

Injuries also played a factor. According to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Kalil required surgery in April to clean up a knee issue that bothered him for portions of the 2013 season. 

"It was some problems with my knee swelling up, becoming inflamed," Kalil said. "And that affected the way I move and stuff like that. But that's football. It happens."

He was mostly limited during organized team activities and minicamp, but came to camp healthy. 

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These can be considered minor issues, especially in the context of Adrian Peterson's rehab and return from an ACL injury in 2012. But Peterson is a rare breed of athlete, a freak of nature in a gladiator's game. Problems like those faced by Kalil can mess up an offseason program and halt progression. 

The Vikings are not outwardly portraying concern over their left tackle.

Maybe that's genuine, given coaches see Kalil every day in practice and know exactly what is being asked of him on every preseason play. Or maybe they are spinning a positive vibe for a player dealing with a slightly shaken confidence. 

Time will reveal the answer. Kalil is scheduled to see the likes of Robert Quinn, Chandler Jones and Clay Matthews during the team's first five games. Hold off on the panic button until we watch a healthy Kalil face those rushers in games that matter. 

 

Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report. 

Follow @zachkruse2

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