Not to be outdone by their defensive teammates, the Vikings first team offense got off to a fast start on Friday in the preseason opener. Capitalizing on good field position created by strong defensive and special teams performances early in the game, the first team offense drove 112 yards on 20 plays over two drives and scored 10 points in the process.
The offensive line’s performance early in Friday’s game set the tempo for the offense to move up and down the field. The best moment came in the first drive, as Matt Cassel and the Minnesota Moving Company drove 70 yards in 10 plays to score a touchdown. After going back and looking at the tape, here are a few of my observations on the line’s performance during that first series.
Play 6 (2nd and 15)
Outcome: Matt Asiata gained 9 yards rushing up the middle, digging the Vikings out of a down-and-distance hole and setting up a 3rd-and-manageable situation.
The key to the play was left guard Charlie Johnson, who pulled from his position and led Asiata through the A gap. While doing so, Johnson kicked out linebacker Nick Roach and gave Asiata an opportunity to cut to his left to pick up additional yardage. Asiata made a second cut after that for a few more yards and gained nine on the play.
Play 7 (3rd and 7)
Outcome: Cassel picked up the 1st down on this play with a 13-yard completion to Greg Jennings.
Key to the play was a double-team block by Brandon Fusco and John Sullivan on Raiders nose tackle Pat Sims. Earlier in the drive, Sims was giving the Vikings an issue, but on this play he was neutralized. Johnson was singled on defensive tackle Antonio Smith and kept him at bay long enough for Cassel to find Jennings as he broke open near the 1st-down marker.
Play 9 (2nd and 8)
Outcome: Cassel found tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 22-yard gain down to the Oakland 1, which set up the one-yard Asiata touchdown plunge.
Oakland tried to get to Cassel by pressuring with linebacker Miles Burris, but Fusco picked up the blitz well and gave his quarterback plenty of time to find Rudolph, who ran a 7 route and was wide open for what turned out to be the penultimate play of the drive.
Play 10 (1st and goal)
Outcome: Asiata one-yard touchdown run
The Vikings brought in their jumbo/goal line personnel grouping, which includes backup interior offensive lineman Joe Berger (he lined up to the right of Phil Loadholt on this particular play). On the play, Loadholt and Fusco doubled down on Smith, with fullback Jerome Felton leading the way through the gap vacated by the double team. Felton cleared out both Burris and cornerback Carlos Rogers, allowing Asiata to burrow his way into the back of the offensive line and ride the wave into the end zone. Also key to this touchdown run were Berger and Sullivan; Berger sealed out linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Sullivan took care of the big 6-2, 310-pound beast in the middle – Sims.
All-in-all, it was a very solid performance by the Vikings front line. Brandon Fusco had no bad plays, Charlie Johnson may have been the best of the group, Sullivan held his own against a true monster in the middle (Sims) and both tackles looked sharp going against expert pass rushers in Antonio Smith, Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley.
How did Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer feel about the first team offensive line? Here’s what he said during his press conference on Sunday morning:
“I thought Matt Kalil improved quite a bit. He made a great play on the one ball Teddy got sacked on. We can’t have turnovers, we can’t have sacks in the red zone. I thought Kalil played well. I thought all of them did. Sully probably needs to be a little bit more explosive at the point of attack. The nose guard (Sims) was playing a little bit of a head up technique, which we obviously didn’t prepare a lot for this team. Phil did a nice job and Charlie Johnson did a good job. I was pleased, especially with the run blocking. We have to clean the pocket up for the quarterback a little bit better. You know those quarterbacks like to have a clean pocket.”