Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Minnesota's Mixed Bag

Minnesota Vikings OL Dru Samia
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

It's funny how watching a game in real time and again after the fact can lead to two wildly different experiences. Watching Sunday's night game live, it was impossible not to come away thinking how Minnesota blew it, because they're bad or cursed and it's just what they do. You just shook your head at the collapse. Watching the game back with no announcers and no real sense of flow, you see a team that did a lot of good things and just made too many big mistakes to win.

The biggest positive for Minnesota has to be the running game. Even with Dalvin Cook going out with an injury, Minnesota ran for 200 yards. Alex Mattison stepped in for Cook and went for over 110 yards. As a team they averaged just under 5 yards a carry.

This is a good example of an offense all being on the same page. It starts with left guard Dakota Dozier (78) letting the fullback (C.J. Ham, 30) know that he's working backside. With the pre-snap shift it's important that everyone knows who is working to who, and that little hip tap lets Ham know that the front-side combo is working back to the Will, so Ham can't push to the safety and has to take the Mike.

The combo block is perfectly executed. Dozier works through the nose tackle's play-side shoulder to turn the defender's body and make center Garrett Bradbury's (56) block much easier. Notice how Dozier keeps his shoulders fairly square, never fully turning into the combo block, so he can easily climb and swallow the linebacker. He never gets that left hand involved.

Ham is also really good here. He takes the linebacker head on and forces him to pick a side. With a back like Dalvin Cook, no matter what side that the linebacker picks he'll be wrong, because Cook will make the cut off the block. I thought Ham played really well all game and notably got the best of Bobby Wagner on a number of occasions.

This is an example of an offense being on the wrong page and things working out anyway. I don't know why Bradbury is working backside here instead of to the Mike (Cody Barton, 57), but it clearly looks like a miscue by him. Luckily for the Vikings, Barton is really bad for Seattle here.

Still, it was the right play call because even without blocking the Mike and the combo not blocking the nose tackle (Bryan Mone, 92) very effectively, there's a big hole here for the running back. The key block is once again made by Ham on Wagner (54). I'm not a huge fan of throwing cut blocks in the hole in general, but it certainly worked here.

This is basic outside zone to the weak side. Day 1 install for a Gary Kubiak offense, but this is a great example of how you execute it. Dozier at left guard is really good here. Look at his backside hand; notice how he's holding it back. That's called a catch hand, and you keep it back there in case the defensive tackle (Jarran Reed, 90) tries to play behind the block, which is exactly what happens. But because Dozier has that low catch hand, he's able to catch the slant and club the defensive tackle back where he wants him. He gets his hand a little high here -- he's on the shoulder instead of in the rib cage, which makes it more likely you get called for holding -- but this is still strong technique.

Bradbury at center also plays this exactly like you teach it. He feels the nose (Poona Ford, 97) slant away and he gives his guard as much help as possible without leaving his path or turning his shoulders. He gives heavy hand presence but never turns his shoulders. That allows him to still climb to a linebacker that's playing fast flow.

Now that we've looked at some of the good, it's time to look at the bad for Minnesota -- primarily how much interior pressure they give up. If you ask any coach in the NFL they'll tell you the quickest way to kill any offense is interior pressure. The Vikings simply give up way too much, and it resulted in too many drive-killers for them.

Last time I looked at the Vikings, right guard Dru Samia was a big focus due to his poor play. Unfortunately he wasn't much better Sunday night. I've never seen a NFL guard struggle more with straight bull rushes (like this one by Reed) than Samia has in the two games I've watched. It is constant. He plays too high, which is a big part of it, but more than that I just don't think he's physically strong enough to play at this level. Maybe I'm wrong and if he plays with better pad level and hip bend he'll look like a new player, but I'm skeptical. This kind of stuff happens too often.

And if it was just the bull rushes, you might be able to see how he could make some adjustments and become at least serviceable off the bench. But Samia (73) makes mental mistakes too. This looks physical, but it's a mental mistake. His first step is way too big. He steps outside the 3-technique's outside foot. When your first step is that big, literally the only thing you can do with the second step is to bring it closer to that first step unless you can do the splits. So when the defensive tackle slants inside, Samia has already taken two steps outside before he can even think about redirecting back inside. Samia is not the kind of athlete that can overcome that king of head start and has no choice but to hold.

Unfortunately, Samia wasn't the only one on the Vikings that struggled in pass pro. Dozier did some nice things in the ground game, but he had issues pass-blocking. This one is tough to say because I'm not sure what the Vikings are running here. If it's half-slide protection, Dozier is totally at fault here. He needs to quit getting vertical and get lateral into his A-gap. If it is half-slide protection, Dozier is way too slow coming down to help the center.

If it's a man protection scheme, Bradbury is way too quick to try and pass the defensive tackle off. He has to redirect back inside until he feels his guard is there. Once the defensive tackle makes an inside move, Bradbury never even thinks about coming inside with him. Bradbury's set makes me think it was half-slide and it was Dozier who messed up, but you can't be sure unless you know the play call. The only thing that's certain is that it was another miscue up front and led to more interior pressure.


7 comments, Last at 17 Oct 2020, 7:22pm

1 Yikes. This drives home the…

Yikes. This drives home the point that you can probably survive one terrible player in pass pro, but having 2 or more is the breaking point.

The interesting implication from that is, how much value do you get investing heavily in your offensive line if all it takes is one or two players to ruin it? I'd suggest finding or training a top notch o line coach to ensure competency maybe a hard, but less hard route.

3 Already down one

Pat Elflein was placed on IR within the first week or two of the season; that's a big part of the reason we are seeing the failures on the line. Having said that - I've been shouting at the Vikes to draft for the line and develop depth for years now (especially if they're going to drop a stupid amount of guaranteed money on a QB who doesn't scramble well or function well under pressure).


Strangely, they still aren't taking my calls.

4 Elflein was pretty bad last…

In reply to by Tundrapaddy

Elflein was pretty bad last year, though unthinkably he is probably an upgrade over Samia.

Very few to almost no qbs function with consistent pressure. Its usually the kind of thing that will break most QBs.

I think Cousins is a good qb. I think he's better than Jimmy G for example, putting him somewhere in the outer edges of the top 10. His biggest issue is hes not as good as some qbs who can transcend their surroundings and elevate the whole team. Well, that's a pretty hard thing to do

5 I subscribe to the “an…

I subscribe to the “an offensive line is as strong as it’s weakest link” theory. I’d much rather have a line with 5 league average starters than one with 3 such starters, 1 superstar and 1 liability. It would probably be cheaper too

6 Samia

Great work Big Man.


If the Vikes don't want ti inset Cleveland into the G spot and take Samia out does it suggest Cleveland isn't any good? Or are they saying we have to give Samia at least four games to prove he is not up to par? 

Agree with a previous comment regarding coaching. Would the Pat's O line whisperer for example turn this crew about? 

It is interesting as Zimmer wants to play high percentage ball control football. But when you look at high picks like Barr and Hughes and ask what would the team look like if those pick went to the O line? Uncle Ric & co have done a pretty solid job drafting but, and we love him, Zimmer has clearly got a pile of defensive side picks. When you think that the drafts have produced Hunter and Harris, above average players for little to no draft picks expended, the defence has a had a lot of love given to it. 

It can be argued that the result has been a desultory O line. O'Neil is very good and Bradbury looks alright. Elflin looked alright early but has gone missing since his first season. Reiff, while not a star has been pretty solid. The problem seems to be the weakest link, and as the article mentions the interior pass rush. 

If we had two serviceable guards from some of the defensive draft picks I think the line would be a lot more functional and in particular give the play calling more teeth as the run game could feature more traps and power runs to offset the outside zone plays.

7 Samia didn’t look great on…

In reply to by Willsy

Samia didn’t look great on the running plays highlighted in Ben’s piece, either. doesn’t seem like you’re risking much trying someone else in there....