The Minnesota Vikings offensive line has been the flakiest unit on the roster.
There have been games where the Vikings offensive line makes it very easy for running back Adrian Peterson to march up and down the field, as was the case against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (when Peterson rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns).
Then there are games where Peterson has nowhere to run and where even one of the best backs in the NFL cannot be successful, as was the case in Week 6 against the Chicago Bears when Peterson rushed 12 times for 39 yards (3.3 yards per carry).
The pass blocking has been bad all year.
Among the four NFC North teams, Minnesota allows the second-most sacks per game (2.75) but the second-fewest quarterback hits per game (4.25). But that is in a division with the Chicago Bears, who have a notoriously bad offensive line (2.86 sacks and 5.43 quarterback hits allowed on average per game).
Part of the struggles of the offensive line, in the first six weeks of the season, was due to the immobility of quarterback Donovan McNabb and his inability to properly feel the pass rush.
Many sacks should be accredited to him. The team allowed an average of four sacks per game and 4.16 quarterback hits per game in games McNabb started.
But with Christian Ponder under center, the offensive line allowed an average of three sacks and 4.5 quarterback hits per game.
Ponder is more mobile than McNabb, but when it comes to sensing the pass rush he’s quite inconsistent. Some plays he maneuvers about the pocket brilliantly and other times he leaves observers scratching their heads.
Given the quarterback changes, the one constant in the sack equation has been an underwhelming performance from the offensive line. And to its credit, it hasn’t been fully healthy since the Week 5 matchup with the Chicago Bears.
Center John Sullivan left that game with a concussion, and right tackle Phil Loadholt left with a knee injury, too.
In Week 7 and Week 8, right guard Anthony Herrera missed time amidst concerns about his left knee.
It’s understandable that shifts in the personnel of the offensive line would cause the quality of play to decrease. The offensive line is a unit that needs continuity in order to perform at its best. Communication and an understanding of other linemen’s habits are key to the unit’s success.
But these are professionals. And injuries are not a sufficient excuse for what the offensive line has done, especially given that the injuries have only been over the past three weeks. It can do better than what it has shown thus far. It needs to.
The biggest disappointment halfway through the season has been left tackle Charlie Johnson. In training camp, much was said about his struggles blocking defensive end Jared Allen.
And rumors swirled about what a flop Johnson would be. Other rumors said Allen was just due for a big year.
Turns out both parties were right.
Johnson does not do a sufficient job protecting the blindside of Minnesota’s quarterbacks. More often than not it is his frame standing over his fallen quarterback as he allows another sack.
Steve Hutchinson hasn’t been the overly dominant left guard Minnesota has been used to in previous seasons—though, even at age 33, he’s still the best offensive lineman on the roster and plays at a high enough level.
The right side of the line has been very disappointing.
Loadholt had an extremely productive rookie campaign. He looked like he could develop into a Pro Bowl right tackle. Since that 2009 season he’s had 1.5 down years.
He looks slow as a pass blocker and isn’t overly dominant in the run block game despite his large frame (6’8”, 343 pounds).
Herrera hasn’t been the same since he tore his left ACL on Nov. 14, 2010. He’s slower and not as powerful of a run blocker as he used to be.
Sullivan is the team’s second-best offensive lineman. He’s intelligent, agile, and can move linemen in the run game. He’s not on the level of former Vikings center Matt Birk, but Minnesota should be happy with the job he’s done.
The offensive line is a position of concern for the Vikings moving into the future. And it should be a position the team looks to address in the 2012 NFL draft.
Midseason Grade: C+