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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings 1st Scheduled Trip to Vegas & Light O-Lines

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Excited to see Purple in the new Raiders stadium. When will the Vikings play in Las Vegas?

— Ken from San Marcos, California

Just in case anyone missed it, the Raiders last week officially began calling Las Vegas home, but it will be a bit before the Vikings head there for a regular-season game.

If no changes are made to the way the NFL does its schedule, the first regular-season game in Las Vegas for the Vikings and Raiders will not happen until 2023.

Minnesota last visited the Raiders in Oakland in 2015, and because the teams are in different conferences, they are on a home-and-away that occurs every four years. Thus, the Vikings hosted the Raiders this past fall and will not be scheduled to visit Vegas until 2023.

As for Southern California, since the Vikings visited the Chargers this fall (and played in front of an incredible Purple crowd), Minnesota isn't scheduled to do that again until 2027. The Vikings also aren't scheduled to visit the Rams until 2024. The Rams are supposed to visit Minnesota in 2021.

Hello, I have been a Vikings fan since the early '70s. I have seen the ups and downs over the years. This past year the Vikings had the second-lightest offensive line in the NFL. Good defensive lines were eating them up. … Next year, if they can't protect [Kirk] Cousins, it will be more of the same.

— Bill from New York

With the shift to the zone-blocking scheme, the line did get lighter and more mobile, but that did seem to expose susceptibility to super-strong interior defensive linemen.

In a December story about the zone-blocking scheme, ESPN's Kevin Seifert referenced a league database that had the Vikings as the third-lightest offensive line at an average of 308.3 pounds.

The team with the lightest offensive line?

Super Bowl-bound San Francisco at 305.9 pounds per player, according to Seifert.

The offensive line took a big step forward in 2019 with the addition of Garrett Bradbury at center, Josh Kline at guard and the new blocking scheme brought in by Gary Kubiak. Is it logical to expect another significant step forward after the five starters have worked as a unit and played a year in the system together? I'd like to think that continuity and experience should lead to better communication, performance and less mistakes, but is that just wishful thinking?

Sincerely,

— Brian Smit from Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The Vikings revamped all three positions of their interior offensive line, moving Pat Elflein from center to left guard, signing Kline in free agency to play right guard and starting Bradbury at center.

The unit had quite a bit of change in personnel and scheme, but there were some encouraging signs over the course of the season. It seems like a lot of the unit's progress was undermined by the game in San Francisco and a couple other outings.

Bradbury became the first rookie center to start all 16 games of a season in franchise history, the offensive line, Kirk Cousins and the scheme helped Minnesota decrease its sacks from 40 in the 2018 regular season to 28.

A goal for the offensive line is to get five players to play as one, so it seems that more time together and in the system could help.

View photos of 8 Vikings players as they compete in the 2020 Pro Bowl hosted in Orlando, Fla.

It seemed as if my Vikes had a problem stopping the run in two important games, Seahawks and 49ers. What do you think we need to do to remedy that?

Go Vikes.

— Victor Patterson from Maryland

The Vikings wanted to be better against the run in 2019, bringing back Shamar Stephen to help with that, and generally were, improving from 113.4 (15th in NFL) to 108.0 per game (13th in NFL), but you are correct about the struggles against the run against Seattle and San Francisco.

I think it starts with the fact that both of those teams are really good at running the football. San Fran ranked second in the NFL, and Seattle ranked fourth in rushing yards per game this season.

It seemed like those teams consistently won at the point of attack.

Seattle used an extra tackle for a considerable amount of the game to create a blocking mismatch. San Francisco was able to play the game on its terms because the Niners kept getting runs of 5-6 yards.

I'm sure that the inability to stop the run in those games did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.

The Vikings will be heading to Seattle again next year, and doing better against the run will be key if Minnesota is to claim its first win there since 2006.

It's possible that changes in personnel, tweaks to scheme/technique and in-game adjustments could all help, as well as building a lead against teams that are at their best when running the ball.

1) How can the Vikings become an elite team if they have to change the coaching staff every year? 2) Looking at the final four teams that were left in the playoffs, their o and d lines are some of the best in the game; any chance of turning this team's lines around in one year.

— Larry

1) It seems like some amount of change happens every year in the NFL (results were good enough to get noticed and earn a promotion elsewhere or weren't good enough to stick around). The Patriots have reloaded assistants/coordinators multiple times and maintained their status.

Coach Zim' has spoken about wanting to keep as much continuity for the offense as possible, and I'm pretty sure that he'll maintain a fairly high degree of continuity on defense, although one of my favorite moves by him this season was moving Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter inside against the Saints.

The Vikings were able to improve from 8-7-1 to 10-6, but there is still a ways to go. Hopefully another couple steps forward can get the Vikings over the hump.

2) For all of the attention that skill players get (and how much fun it is to see them do their thing), you are correct about the importance on the line of scrimmage. It seemed like losing at the line was a commonality in Vikings losses this season, and I'm sure that will be a point of emphasis as the coaches begin working on 2020.

I'd say that the defensive line has consistently been one of the best during Zim's tenure. The highest-drafted player by Minnesota along the defensive line is Danielle Hunter (88th overall in the third round of the 2015 draft). Linval Joseph was a second-round pick by the Giants who joined Minnesota in free agency. Even so, the unit has been highly productive.

The o-line is probably built more slowly because of the importance of cohesion within the unit, but the Vikings have drafted an offensive lineman in the first or second round in each of the past two drafts.

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