3 Keys To Vikings Improvement Along Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 11, 2012 – 11:02 am

In taking a closer look at the Redskins running attack earlier on Thursday, we referenced the camaraderie generated from playing the same five starters in all five games as one factor that’s led to production. In taking a look at the Vikings offense through five games, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and QB Christian Ponder have similar sentiments about their front line.

“The offensive line is playing tremendously well,” Ponder said on Wednesday. “You can tell the chemistry they have and the amount of communication they have on the line. They’re doing such a great job and they’re really gelling together, not even just the pass protection, they’re opening up holes in the run game. They couldn’t be playing any better.”

Frazier mentioned communication as a key to the line’s play as well while speaking with reporters on Wednesday.

“I see them at practice, in between, talking to one another about how we have to combo block, what we have to do from a technique standpoint,” Frazier said. “It’s a good chemistry on our offensive line right now and it’s showing up on the field.”

This type of play from the offensive line is refreshing to the Vikings and to those who’ve followed the Vikings in recent seasons. Individuals have played well at various times, but it’s been a couple of seasons since the Vikings offensive line played this well collectively. There are likely several factors behind the improvement. Let’s take a look at three of them.

1. Coach Davidson
There’s no better place to start than with Vikings OL coach Jeff Davidson. This is his second year on the job, and the veteran coach with multiple Super Bowl rings and NFL playing experience to his credit is starting to see results. It’s often said that a head coach or even defensive/offensive coordinator needs time to incorporate his scheme. A new position coach faces a similar challenge working with his subset of players, and therefore it’s fair to grant that position coach time as well. Davidson has put plenty of time in, and it’s beginning to pay off.

2. Buying the right groceries
If Davidson is the chef concocting the recipe for success along the offensive line, Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his personnel staff are responsible for buying the groceries from which Davidson creates the recipe. You may hate the analogy, but the point remains that Spielman has punched the right buttons when it comes to personnel decisions along the offensive line.

John Sullivan, whom Spielman selected with a 6th-round pick in 2008, has turned into one of the best centers in the NFL. Phil Loadholt, a 2nd-round pick in 2009, has taken a big step forward in 2012 and is in a contract year. The Vikings saw something they liked in Brandon Fusco, a 6th-round pick in 2011, and their decision to award him a starting job after training camp has turned into the right one. And you can’t talk about draft picks along the offensive line without mentioning Matt Kalil, the Vikings 4th overall pick this past April. He’s dominated the opposition at LT so far this season and looks every bit the part of a 4th overall choice. The selection of Kalil allowed the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson, last year’s LT, to his more natural position – guard.

3. You win with players
It’s only fair to credit coaching and personnel decisions when credit is due, so the first two points remain applicable. But the bottom line is that players have to go out and do their jobs. And that is what’s happening for the Vikings along the offensive line, through the first five games. There’s a lot of season to play, and the players will be the first to admit there are improvements to be made, but so far their ability to communicate and play well together has made a big difference for the Vikings offense.

“I like how they’re working together collectively,” Frazier said. “That is what you need as a unit to be effective on an offensive line and those guys are helping one another. I can see Matt [Kalil] working with Charlie [Johnson] and Charlie helping him. Then I see what John [Sullivan] is doing with Brandon [Fusco],who’s a young guy who is early in his career and helping him. And then Phil [Loadholt] is much more consistent. So each guy playing a little bit better and what it has created is a solid offensive line.”

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A Closer Look: Redskins Running Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 11, 2012 – 6:39 am

The Washington Redskins made one of the most aggressive moves of the 2012 NFL Draft, agreeing in mid-March to send three 1st-round picks and a 2nd-round pick to St. Louis in order to move up from the #6 spot to the #2 spot. The target was QB Robert Griffin III, and the Redskins eventually got their man.

Griffin III is off to a solid start for Washington. He’s completing 69.1% of his passes - tops in the NFL – and he ranks 6th in the NFL with a passer rating of 101.0. Through 5 games, it appears the Redskins made a wise choice in making Griffin III their QB of the future, and as a result their passing game should continue to improve.

For the moment, though, the Redskins offense begins and ends with their running game. Griffin III is a part of that running game, and so is another member of the Redskins 2012 draft class. The Redskins running game is the topic of today’s A Closer Look feature…

Producing Results
The Redskins enter Week 6 of the NFL season as one of the NFL’s top rushing teams. They rank 7th in attempts (159), 4th in yards (813) and yards per game (162.6), 3rd in yards per attempt (5.1), tied for 3rd in rushing TDs (8) and 2nd in explosive runs (runs of 10+ yards) with 29. Those numbers would be even better if not for a substandard performance last week against a very good Atlanta Falcons defense. The Redskins had season-lows in many rushing categories, and prior to that performance they notched 2 rushing TDs in each game and hadn’t ran fewer than 29 times in any contest.

Rookie Workhorse
The workhorse in the Redskins running game is another rookie, and a drastically less-celebrated rookie heading into the 2012 draft at that. Now, however, Redskins fans are celebrating Alfred Morris. Washington selected Morris with a 6th-round pick last April, and the Florida Atlantic product wasted no time taking charge of the team’s RB position. Morris rushed for 96 yards and 2 TDs on 28 carries in Week 1, and now Morris joins only Eric Dickerson as rookies who’ve rushed for 75+ yards in each of their first five games. Morris has 100+ rushing yards in each of the last two games, averages 4.9 yards per carry and has found the end zone 4 times.

Credit Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan for once against finding a diamond in the rough at RB late in the draft – he’s done that several times in his career, most notably while coaching the Denver Broncos.

And when looking at the Redskins rushing game, don’t forget about RG3. The Redskins rookie passer is a true dual threat. He averages 5.7 yards per rush on 42 attempts and has matched Morris’ total of 4 rushing TDs. Griffin III is a genuine threat as a ball-carrier. Of the Redskins 813 rushing yards, Morris accounts for 60% (491 yards) and Griffin III accounts for 29.6% (241 yards), and no other Redskins player has more than 7 rushing attempts.

Men Up Front
We can’t talk about the Redskins productive ground game without crediting their offensive line. The Redskins have started the same five offensive linemen all season, and the camaraderie generated from that consistency is paying dividends. Former 4th overall pick (2010) Trent Williams starts at LT and former Viking Kory Lichtensteiger starts at LG. Sixth-year veteran Will Montgomery anchors the line at center, Chris Chester starts at RG and Tyler Polumbus starts at RT. Most of the names aren’t household, but the group is gutty and they’re playing well right now.

No team runs to the right more than Washington – the Redskins have run the ball 67 times for 312 yards (4.7 yards per carry) behind Chester and Polumbus. But only three teams have run up the middle fewer times than Washington – they have 25 carries for 106 yards (4.2 per carry) running between the guards.

A Good Matchup
The Redskins running game against the Vikings rush defense is a great matchup. We’ve chronicled the Redskins productive running game above, but keep in mind that the Vikings have been tough against the run this season. The Vikings rank 2nd in yards per carry allowed (3.2) and 6th in rushing yards per game allowed (78.6), and they’ve yet to surrender a rushing TD to a RB (Matthew Stafford scored a rushing TD in Week 4).

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