Injuries Force Vikings to Shuffle Offensive Line

Posted Dec 10, 2017

The musical chairs for the Viking offensive line started before Sunday’s game even kicked off.

With rookie center Pat Elflein missing an NFL game for the first time because of a shoulder injury, left guard Nick Easton slid over a spot to center while Jeremiah Sirles filled in for Easton at left guard.

Riley Reiff was at left tackle, Joe Berger was at right guard and Rashod Hill remained at right tackle as Minnesota opened the game with its fifth different starting line combination this season.

“That’s part of the job description though, guys bounce around,” Easton said. “We’re all talented at different positions, so I think we adjusted pretty well.”

But that starting combination didn’t remain intact all game. Reiff left the game with an ankle injury late in the third quarter.

Reiff’s absence created seismic shifts all across the line, with only Easton (center) and Berger (right guard) remaining in their original spots.

Hill took over at left tackle for Reiff, while the versatile Sirles moved to Hill’s spot at right tackle. That meant rookie Danny Isidora entered the game and filled in at left guard.

But with the Vikings trailing for most of the game and needing to gain yards through the air, Carolina’s defense sensed passing plays were in order.

The Vikings allowed a season-high six sacks on the day, including a strip-sack that lead to a Panthers field goal.

The entire offense shouldered the blame for the tough performance on that side of the ball.

“Honestly, I think those guys did a really good job,” said Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. “But when you have to pass it and the defense knows, they’re teeing off.

“We have to put those guys in better positions by starting fast and scoring early because then they don’t know if you’re going to run the ball or pass the ball. It’s complementary football,” Thielen added. “I think that’s why we haven’t [given up many] sacks this whole year, because we’ve been able to score points and take pressure off those guys.”

Added tight end Kyle Rudolph: “Unfortunately that’s part of our game and something we have to deal with. Everybody that was called upon and came in played well.” 

Easton and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer noted there would be plenty of room for improvement this week at practice.

“We’re going to see things across the board we wish we would have done differently,” Easton said. “One thing here, one thing there … it would have been a completely different game for us.”

Added Zimmer: “That's why we have them here. They're pros, and they need to come in and perform.”

While it was a frustrating day for the offense, the offensive line did help Minnesota’s ground game record exactly 100 yards rushing against a stout Panthers defense.

That marks the 10th time this season the Vikings have gained 100 or more rushing yards in a game.

While Minnesota saw its eight-game win streak snapped, Easton provided a silver living with all the moving and shaking around him. 

“I think we definitely have experience in games,” Easton said. “Wish we could have pulled it out though, you know?”