Cliché time: NFL games are won in the trenches.
Most often, these coaching phrases become overused because they ring true throughout history.
Thus, when setting out to improve this offseason, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer identified the one key area needing an upgrade in order for his team to get over the playoff hump: offensive line.
“I feel like every other position group on our football team has a tough-minded personality. I don’t know that our offensive line did,” Zimmer told reporters Wednesday, via the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Teddy (Bridgewater) was running for his life half the time, (and) we had a whole bunch of 1-yard runs. I just felt we needed to make some changes.”
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Bridgewater was sacked 44 times in 2015, tied for sixth most in the NFL. The Vikings offensive line also gave up 96 QB hits. According to Pro Football Focus, Bridgewater was pressured on 46.9 percent of his drop backs, most in the NFL.
Peterson led the NFL in rushing and earned 4.5 yards per carry, but was often stymied on early downs, leading to lengthy third down situations, which exacerbated Bridgewater’s struggles. (The 4.5 yards per carry is tied for the second lowest of Peterson’s career, during seasons in which he’s played more than one game.)
The Vikings added tackle Andre Smith and guard Alex Boone to boost the offensive line. Both are better run blockers than pass protectors. Both have also not played up to their reputations the past couple seasons. Zimmer also sounded optimistic that center John Sullivan and tackle Phil Loadholt will return from injury, giving the team depth.
Zimmer believes solidifying the O-line will help Bridgewater more than any other change the team could have made this offseason.
“I think that if we fix this one area, I think it’s going to help him a lot more than getting a receiver in here,” he said. “If we can protect for him, be better in our play-action game, and get (rid) of these non 1-yard runs, we can be more effective offensively and it will allow him to throw a lot more than having a great receiver.”
“When we were trying to get Andre Smith in here, I had Teddy text him, and Adrian (too),” Zimmer said. “And then after we signed him, my text back to those guys was, ‘OK, we got Boone. We got Smith. Now there’s no excuses. You can’t say we didn’t have this or this. It’s time to go now.'”