Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Vikings trying to fix offensive line mistakes
By Ben Goessling
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For a coach who prides himself on consistency and stability as much as Leslie Frazier does, there might not have been any better friend than the kind of offensive line the Vikings had in 2012.
All five members of the group started every game, paving the way for Adrian Peterson's 2,097-yard season and protecting Christian Ponder reasonably well; the quarterback was sacked on 6.2 percent of his dropbacks, which matched the NFL average.
And after the Vikings made Phil Loadholt one of the league's highest paid tackles in March, they also ensured the entire group would return intact for 2013.
That's not to say the group has been without its issues this preseason. In fact, one of the more surprising things about the Vikings' 20-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills in last Friday's preseason game was the number of uncharacteristic lapses they saw from their starting linemen.
Things began on the Vikings' first play from scrimmage, when Buffalo's Jerry Hughes raced unblocked past Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil to sack Ponder. The quarterback was sacked a second time in just over a quarter of work, and had to chase a loose ball when John Sullivan snapped it earlier than Ponder was expecting. For all the talk about the Bills' exotic blitzes -- which certainly had an effect on the game -- and the absence of Peterson, who probably gives defenses more to think about than any other player on the Vikings' roster, some of Friday's mistakes were routine errors.
"There were some things that we'll have to get better at, especially when we're going to be on the road like we are in our opening game of the season (at Detroit) from a communication standpoint," Frazier said. "That was probably the one area where I felt like we could have done a lot better communicating some of the things that we saw, and making sure that we execute some of the things that we have to get done, whether it be snapping the football back to the quarterback or identifying who the "Mike" linebacker is in certain fronts. Those are things we will get better at, and it should be better this next week."
One of the most common -- and most prevalent -- criticisms of Ponder is that he bails on the pocket too early, costing himself chances to throw the ball downfield when he feels pressure. Some of that is on the quarterback, but his line can certainly make life easier for the third-year quarterback as he tries to assert himself. The Vikings' first-teamers will get their most extensive work of the season on Sunday night in San Francisco, and against a defense as stout as the 49ers' has been, Minnesota's offensive line will get a chance to clean things up.