The Vikings have now played consecutive games with an offensive line arrangement different than what they started the season with in the absences of Christian Darrisaw.
Minnesota has shifted Olisaemeka Udoh from right guard to left tackle after losing Darrisaw to an ankle injury at San Francisco. The full line over the past two games has been as follows:
LG Ezra Cleveland
C Garrett Bradbury
RG Mason Cole
RT Brian O'Neill
Will Ragatz, who covers the Vikings for Sports Illustrated, wrote that "things are looking up for the Vikings much-maligned offensive line."
[Dalvin] Cook was fantastic on Thursday [against the Steelers], but plenty of credit must go to the offensive line, as well. [The unit was] opening up huge holes left and right, as evidenced by 110 of Cook's 205 rushing yards coming before initial contact (per Pro Football Focus). They also gave [Kirk] Cousins plenty of time in the passing game, particularly early on.
View the best photos from the Vikings game against the Steelers in Week 14 on Thursday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium, shot by Vikings seasonal photographers, Harrison Barden and Alli Rusco.
Ragatz said the Vikings do need to get Darrisaw back, as he's undeniably the stronger option at left tackle. He opined that O'Neill "continues to shine as the unit's best player" and that Darrisaw, O'Neill and Cleveland "are the Vikings three foundational pieces up front."
The big development is that it appears the Vikings may have found something with Garrett Bradbury and Mason Cole playing alongside each other. Bradbury has played his two best games of the season since being reinserted into the lineup at center following his COVID stint.
[Bradbury] has four games left to try and convince the Vikings they should pick up his fifth-year option this offseason. And Cole, [whom Vikings General Manager] Rick Spielman acquired for a sixth-round pick, has continued to play really well since moving from center to right guard two games ago, earning the highest PFF grade on the entire team against Pittsburgh.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Krammer: Cousins 'will need to avoid Bears pressure' to have success in Windy City
The Vikings have enjoyed their mini-bye week after defeating the Steelers on Thursday Night Football, and next up is another prime-time contest.
Chicago will host Minnesota on Dec. 20 for Monday Night Football. Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune posted his weekly “Film Review” column and said Cousins will need to avoid the Chicago pass rush if he hopes to be successful. Krammer wrote:
During the Vikings last trip to Soldier Field, quarterback Kirk Cousins played well on a Monday night. He limited damage by a dangerous Bears defense with quick and clean passes.
There was one interception, but receiver Adam Thielen bobbled the ball into the arms of Bears defensive end Khalil Mack. Thielen later caught a fourth-quarter touchdown. The Vikings left with a rare win in Soldier Field, 19-13.
Cousins' play under pressure, because he always seems to get attacked by the Bears, was a big reason the Vikings crawled to that win. He was sacked just once on 37 dropbacks despite being pressured at a top-10 rate for the week.
Now Cousins and the Vikings are headed back to Chicago on Monday night, a week after an enigmatic performance against the Steelers. He was especially poor under duress, with no completions on 11 throws with two interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus, representing a few low points in an otherwise strong night for the offense.
Krammer noted that "while this isn't the same Bears defense — Mack is on injured reserve, Akiem Hicks hasn't played in over a month, and Roquan Smith reinjured a hamstring on Sunday night — they've still got nose tackle Eddie Goldman, edge rusher Robert Quinn and some game wreckers."
Krammer looked at a number of plays from the Vikings and Bears most recent games against the Steelers and Packers, respectively, including a second-quarter touchdown by Packers receiver Davante Adams.
Krammer pointed out that Chicago pressured Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but the Packers then "pivoted to a quicker passing game" en route to a 45-30 win.
Rodgers was hit three times (two sacks) in the first quarter, shortly before Green Bay fell into a 10-0 hole with a patchwork offensive line.
Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson was also a reason why. He's playing well in his second NFL season and helped keep an early lid on Packers receiver Davante Adams. Then Green Bay set Adams loose on the rest of the Bears secondary.
Adams' 38-yard touchdown in the second quarter came from the slot and against Bears nickel defender Xavier Crawford, who exited after halftime to injury. Adams outran his replacement, defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson, on [a] 12-yard catch and run in the third quarter.
With Johnson playing some man-to-man coverage on Adams, which he may against Justin Jefferson on Monday night, the Packers leverage the attention into room to run. Green Bay does this with a concept [Vikings Offensive Coordinator] Klint Kubiak has on his play sheet, because the Vikings ran this to Jefferson for 15 yards in San Francisco — a week after the Packers ran it on them at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It's called a leak or hide route, often dangerous with a fast receiver like Adams or Jefferson who can outrun defensive fronts laterally and gain the edge. After two successful runs for 16 yards, Rodgers fakes a handoff to A.J. Dillon; the Bears defense lurches toward the run off left tackle. Adams goes against the grain, sneaking behind the line toward the right side and into the open field.