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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings’ offensive line faces tougher challenge in Week 2 vs. Steelers

By Matthew Coller

Sam Bradford couldn’t say enough about how well his offensive line played against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football.

“They played great,” Bradford said Wednesday. “Like I said after the game they deserved the game ball. They kept me clean all night. They opened holes in the run game, Dalvin went over 100. Those guys just really came together. Like I said I think there’s been a lot of talk outside this building about that group and about those guys, but inside this building I know we’ve got nothing but confidence in them.”

Bradford was sacked just once and rarely pressured against the Saints, which allowed him to pick their secondary apart for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

As Bradford said, there were plenty of questions about the O-line headed into the opener. For starters, the fact that they had not taken a preseason snap together. Also, Nick Easton had never started at left guard before, Pat Elflein hadn’t played a single snap in the NFL, Joe Berger played center last year and both tackles played on the other side in 2016.

Yet it all came together nicely. And the Vikings’ line even put a cherry on top when they closed out the game by opening up holes for Dalvin Cook to run down the clock and clear 100 yards.

This week, especially on short rest, will be a prove-it game for the Vikings’ starting five.

“They’re a different type of crew,” head coach Zimmer said. “They’re thicker, more powerful kind of guys. So, that’s a little bit of an issue. Obviously, the scheme change is different. They’ve got a lot of fire zones, zone blitzes and things like that. So, those are all issues we’re going to have to get acclimated to in a hurry. ”

If you’re wondering, a “fire zone” is where the defense brings five rushers and drops six into zone coverage. The Steelers use endless combinations of linebackers, corners and safeties to line up at the line of scrimmage. Former NFL safety Matt Bowen wrote a piece in 2014 (which included Pittsburgh) breaking down fire zones here.

Last week against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers did an excellent job of confusing rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer and sacking him seven times.

The Steelers won’t be able to fluster veteran QB Sam Bradford like they did Kizer, but they might be able to gain an advantage on the Vikings’ offensive line by showing all sorts of different looks up front.

Below are three downs on the same Browns drive.

On the first, the Steelers bring No. 22 William Gay up to the line of scrimmage along with only two D-linemen and two linebackers. The linemen and OLBs rush, but Gay drops back in coverage, and linebacker Ryan Shazier (who had among the highest percentages of pass rushes among inside linebackers last year) locks onto the running back in coverage.

On the next play, the Steelers show a different look up front. They still have only two linemen (as Pittsburgh often does with a 2-4-5 nickel package), but they overload the offense’s left side using linebacker Vince Williams.

They send everyone except Shazier, who drops back in coverage.

On the next play, Gay is back in the box, Shazier is lined up off the edge along OLB TJ Watt and safety Mike Mitchell. Everyone except Gay rushes the QB, but Cam Heyward throws an extra wrinkle in as he starts to his left, then turns back to the right once the three rushers have been accounted for and Hayward picks up the sack.

Hayward is the key to the operation.

He is technically a defensive end, but at 6-foot-5, 280-pounds, he has the size of a defensive tackle and offers a notable mismatch against many guards.

The former first-round draft pick doesn’t have household-name status, but he has picked up 17.5 sacks over the last three seasons and ranked 88th in the NFL’s top 100 in 2016.

Pittsburgh will be without Stephon Truitt, a similarly-sized D-lineman who has 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Instead backup Tyson Alualu will mostly bookend Hayward, which is a big break for the Vikings.

But Pittsburgh has another weapon up front when they play base package: Nose tackle Javon Hargrave.

Last year’s third-round pick saw 25 snaps in Week 1, but he was very effective stuffing the run and picked up a sack as well. On the play below, he was matched 1-on-1 with the guard and slammed him back into Cleveland’s running back for a loss.

The Vikings weren’t afraid to use backup tight end David Morgan and occasionally mixed in fullback CJ Ham. Will they avoid heavy sets to keep Hargrave off the field as he might be more powerful than Nick Easton?

There’s plenty of talent in the linebacking group, too.

Newcomer TJ Watt caught the league’s attention in Week 1 as he had success rushing off the edge and picked up two sacks.

Watt’s terrific athleticism and speed makes him a major challenge. In NFL Combine results, Watt compared closely to Khalil Mack. Below are his percentiles in every combine measurable. He is elite in almost every category.

Shazier, a former first-round pick, elevated his game last year, picking off three passes, deflecting nine more and grabbing 3.5 sacks.

The Steelers’ ability to send rushers from all over the field makes them arguably a tougher challenge than a team with an elite edge rusher. Last year, Pittsburgh ranked ninth in the NFL in sacks, but their highest total by one player was 5.0 sacks. In turn, 10 players had at least two sacks.

What does that mean for the Vikings’ offensive line? Well, they say that communication is always key, but it becomes even more vital when the opponent relies on deception to pressure the quarterback.

The post Vikings’ offensive line faces tougher challenge in Week 2 vs. Steelers appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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