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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings, Rams’ offenses fueled by offseason left tackle signings

By Matthew Coller

When Andrew Whitworth signed a three-year contract with the Los Angeles Rams to kick off NFL free agency, many teams were disappointed and probably stunned that he agreed to join a team that appeared to be in disarray. Well, Whitworth most have seen something in the Rams because they currently sit at the top of the NFC West and sport the NFL’s top scoring offense.

They wouldn’t be there without him. The Rams have allowed the league’s fifth fewest number of sacks (13) and Whitworth ranks as the NFL’s fifth best tackle by Pro Football Focus metrics.

On Sunday, PFF’s Nathan Jahnke tweeted that Whitworth recorded his 50th career game with 20 or more pass blocks and 0 pressures allowed. That is 15 more than any other left tackle since 2006.

There are plenty of great individual performances around the NFL this year, but few have had the type of impact Whitworth has, helping to take the Rams’ offense from 27th in yards per play to third in one year.

”He’s extremely productive in both phases,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. “He plays with excellent technique, fundamentals, good posture and good length in protection. In the run game, very athletic, has the ability to reach and cut off, can get to the second level. And then you see we use him in the screen game as well where he makes kind of a tough block that springs Sammy Watkins.”

Quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley have been major beneficiaries of Whitworth’s presence. Last season, Goff was sacked 26 times in seven games and only averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. This year, Goff’s pocket has been clean and he’s leading the NFL in yards per attempt.

Heading into this year, it was fair to wonder if Gurley had been a one-year wonder. After a strong 2015 season, he averaged just 3.2 yards per attempt in 2016. This year, he’s back to ‘15 form with 4.4 yards per carry. Gurley also leads the league in yards from scrimmage.

According to ESPN’s splits, Gurley averages 5.4 yards per carry when running to the left side behind Whitworth. In 2016, he gained just 3.9 yards per rush to the left.

According to the Rams’ 31-year-old head man, Whitworth brings much more to the table than just blocking. He’s been a mentor to younger players and even his coach.

”He’s also great for me as a younger coach,” McVay said. “I’m not going to pretend to know the things that I haven’t experienced yet and I rely on a player like [Whitworth] who has great wisdom and experience and he’s involved in a lot of the decisions. It’s why he was pretty much unanimously voted a captain for our team.”

Many of the numbers and comments about Whitworth are similar to those made about Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff.

Quarterback Case Keenum also struggled behind the Rams’ offensive line last season while this year he’s been sacked only once in the past five weeks for a 1-yard loss.

“It gives you a tremendous amount of comfort as a quarterback knowing that you have a guy backside like Riley and across the board guys that are playing well together,” Keenum said.

The Vikings’ rushing game has morphed from dead last in the NFL to 11th best in total yards this season despite losing young star Dalvin Cook in Week 4.

Both left tackles will be tested this week. Everson Griffen, who has sacks in all eight games he’s played, will face off with Whitworth.

“He’s a big guy,” Griffen said. “He’s physical, he has good hands, so I’ve gotta make him move his feet, make him run. I just have to do what I do, stick to my rush plan and go out there and help my team win like I was doing before I got hurt.”

Reiff and the Vikings’ O-line will have to communicate well against the Rams’ pass rush. They feature the league’s most dominant interior lineman Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, who has 56.5 career sacks, on the outside.

Both teams are thrilled to go into this week’s matchup against top D-lines with the current versions of their offensive lines rather than last year’s groups.

The post Vikings, Rams’ offenses fueled by offseason left tackle signings appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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