The fallout surrounding the Minnesota Vikings’ 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday has largely been based around Kirk Cousins. But neither the quarterback nor star running back Dalvin Cook were done many favors by a struggling offensive line despite the absence of superstar defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.
On the pass protection side, Cousins was hurried, hit or sacked on 17 of his 42 drop backs, 15 of which were attributed to the offensive line (and two to the QB). When pressured he averaged just 4.9 yards per pass attempt (per PFF).
In the running game, Cook picked up just 2.5 yards per attempt with 1.5 of his yards coming after contact. Put a different way: 21 of Cook’s 35 yards rushing came after he was hit by a Bears player, giving him very little chance for a breakaway run.
By PFF’s grading system, rookie Garrett Bradbury scored the second lowest grade of any Viking with a 32.4 (out of 100). Only backup guard Dakota Dozier was lower. Pat Elflein had the highest score on the OL at 62.1 but still gave up one hurry and one sack.
Through four games, Bradbury is far and away the worst center in the NFL by PFF’s standards with a 32.5 overall grade, 10.0 blocking grade and 45.5 pass blocking mark.
To put that in context, Elflein struggled mightily in 2018 but managed an overall grade nearly 10 points higher. As a rookie, the former Ohio State standout had a 66.1 overall score.
There isn’t a team in the NFL with spectacular depth on the offensive line and the Vikings are no different but they might be forced into a change if things do not improve in short order. Otherwise upcoming games against Philadelphia and Detroit could yield similar results to Sunday’s loss.
Potential changes would include moving Elflein back to center and replacing his spot with rookie Dru Samia or veteran Brett Jones or putting Jones in at center.
There are limitations to Jones’ game but he put together solid pass blocking grades with the Giants and in limited duty last season. He does not have anywhere near the athleticism of Bradbury but he graded as the 16th best center in the NFL in 2017 with a 60.0 blocking grade — which is average.
Let’s have a look at some of the issues the Vikings had in the middle last week.
We start with a 2018-style quick slant to Stefon Diggs for a 7-yard gain early in the game. With Cousins under center and an empty backfield, the Vikings’ QB takes a quick drop, releases the throw on time and delivers a catchable pass. However, his throw might have given Diggs a much greater opportunity had No. 91 Eddie Goldman not tossed Bradbury aside and created pressure on Cousins.
Goldman’s 90.9 PFF grade was the second highest of his career. His highest came last year in Week 17 against the Vikings.
The Vikings are at a remarkable disadvantage of size and strength at center, which increases the importance of being technically sound. On the play below, a short gain by Cook, Bradbury allows Hicks’ backup Nick Williams to get into the backfield instantly. Dozier is pushed back by Abdullah Anderson (76) and rookie tight end Irv Smith doesn’t reach the linebacker quick enough. Smith’s path was thrown off by Williams’ quick penetration.
Below we see another example of the opponent’s strength simply being too much for the rookie. As Bradbury attempts to turn Willians (97) on an outside zone run to the strong side, the defensive tackle grabs the center’s inside shoulder and simply pushes him out of the way to make the tackle on Alexander Mattison.
Bradbury’s strength in college was his zone blocking ability, which makes his early issues more concerning toward the run scheme that Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison were brought to Minnesota to deploy.
If there was one area in which the former NC State star should shine it’s in space on screen passes. But late in the game the Vikings attempted a screen to Cook in which Bradbury and Dozier are asked to pull. It’s possible there was a mis communication between the guard and center on No. 44 but Bradbury still wasn’t able to be effective in clearing him out for Cook. He didn’t even slow down the linebacker.
Four games are hardly enough to declare someone a bust or decide that they won’t have a successful NFL career but the first quarter of Bradbury’s career has revealed a number of areas in which he must improve to become a quality player.
In win-now mode, the Vikings might not have time to wait for his development as the season goes along. Turning to another option certainly won’t take the Vikings from a poor O-line to a great one but it might improve them from third worst in pass blocking and 18th in run blocking by PFF grades.