Rookie O’Neill can be a weapon for Vikings’ run game

EAGAN, Minn. — When the Minnesota Vikings selected Brian O’Neill in the second round of the 2018 draft, it wasn’t clear whether he would play during his rookie year. But he has not only won the starting job, but it appears he could become part of the solution for the Vikings’ struggling running game.

Running back Dalvin Cook picked up 84 yards in nine carries last week against the New England Patriots and 50 of those yards went on runs to the right side.

On one of the successful runs, an 18-yard carry, the Vikings ran a pin and pull block to the outside right with Kyle Rudolph hitting the outside linebacker and O’Neill getting out in space. You can see in the screen grab below that O’Neill is blocking the Patriots defensive back No. 30.

The Vikings also had success in 2017 using the offensive line’s athleticism, specifically center Pat Elflein (who pulls on the run above) and guard Nick Easton.

Head coach Mike Zimmer said O’Neill’s athleticism can be an asset in improving a run game that ranks last in total yards and 24th in yards per attempt.

“If you’re running away from [O’Neill} a lot times he’s not blocking the guy that’s over him, he’s blocking the guy the next guy inside and that’s guy’s going to be running with the back and in order to get there and get him blocked, or cut off, or pushed by the hole you have to be athletic,” Zimmer said. “And if it’s going to him they maybe combination block off of two guys to one and up to the backer depending on where he goes. The athleticism is important.”

Athleticism was a major reason the Vikings selected O’Neill. He rank a 4.82 40-yard dash, which ranks in the 98th percentile among tackles. His 3-cone drill was also in the 98th percentile.

The play highlighted above is a trap run not outside zone, but Zimmer pointed out on Thursday that running outside zone plays can be particularly effective for Cook.

“It’s about stretching the defense and then hopefully get a cut back seam in there typically,” Zimmer said. “It’s stretch, stretch, stretch, put your foot in the ground and get back downhill. The ball might start on this hash and it might press to outside the other hash but cut back inside the hash. It makes the defenders run and so that’s where if defenders start turning their shoulders then that’s when cut back seams occur.”

From the website Football-Tutorials.com, here is the X’s and O’s look at the outside zone scheme.

O’Neill has had plenty of ups and downs in his rookie season, but has largely been solid since taking over for Rashod Hill. He has not allowed a sack, but has given up 22 QB pressures in 397 pass snaps. Last week against the New England Patriots he did not allow a single pressure — though he gave up five against the Green Bay Packers the previous week.

This week the Vikings will have a chance to open up their run game against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. They are tied for last in yards per carry allowed.