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Bleacher Report – Vikings

As stakes rise, Vikings need ‘A’ game from maligned offensive line

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings’ 38-7 blowout loss to the Seahawks last month was a low point for the offense under coordinator Norv Turner.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was hit four times on his first five dropbacks. The offense was shutout and punted away eight of 10 possessions – the other two ending in a Bridgewater interception and a turnover on downs. The offensive line was thoroughly beaten as the Seahawks’ trio of Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin and Frank Clark combined for seven tackles for losses.

While the maligned O-line has held together for the 11-win Vikings, especially considering they’ve played without two starters all season, coach Mike Zimmer expects more on Sunday in a rematch against the Seahawks – this time in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

“I think we can do a lot better,” Zimmer said of the offensive line. “We obviously didn’t do anything offensively in the [Dec. 6 loss], we didn’t run the ball good, didn’t throw the ball good — third downs, none of that stuff.”

The Vikings’ offense was shutout by the Seahawks for the first time since Josh Freeman started at quarterback on Oct. 21, 2013. Running back Adrian Peterson, their best offensive weapon, was taken out of the game by an early 14-0 deficit that ultimately fed Bridgewater to the wolves. Guard Brandon Fusco was one of four different Vikings to allow a sack in that game, with two credited to tight ends as they tried to give the O-line help in pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus.

The offensive line has taken the brunt of criticism for pressure on Bridgewater, though coaches and players are quick to point out other factors that have hurt protection. Either way, Fusco wants his group to seize an opportunity to show they’re capable of being the aggressors.

“I think this will open some people’s eyes of what we can do,” Fusco said. “It’s a great opportunity for us. We’re well aware of the personnel we’re going against. We’re ready to bring our ‘A’ game.”

There have undoubtedly been growing pains for a group already undergoing a facelift before losing center John Sullivan and tackle Phil Loadholt to season-ending injuries in the preseason. Fusco moved to left guard in an effort to shore up protection for Bridgewater’s blind side, while Mike Harris made the transition from last year’s swing tackle to this year’s starting right guard.

They allowed 45 sacks through the regular season, tied for eighth-most in the league.

“I think we’ve grown a lot,” Fusco said. “We’ve gotten better. We try to at least get better each week. We’ve got great communication up front now. I feel like everyone has a good idea of how to play next to each other.”

The patchwork line helped bring the Vikings a NFC North title for the first time in six years. And now the focus has turned to seeking an edge on a Seahawks defense boasting five Pro Bowl selections.

“Seattle had our number,” Harris said. “But I’m not intimidated at all by them. They’ve got good players, I just have to do a little extra this week. Watch film and study their tendencies, which will help me. They don’t disguise much, they just try to out-physical you and beat us with one-on-ones.”

The post As stakes rise, Vikings need ‘A’ game from maligned offensive line appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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