MINNEAPOLIS — If someone told you the Minnesota Vikings would be down two starting offensive linemen against a team that put 10 sacks on the New York Jets last week, you would have expected Kirk Cousins to be in for a long day. Instead the Vikings’ two backup linemen Rashod Hill and Dakota Dozier were up to the task against the Philadelphia Eagles, giving Cousins plenty of time to hit deep shots and throw for 333 yards while only being sacked once.
Hill, the team’s swing tackle since 2016, entered early in the game when starting left tackle Riley Reiff limped off with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Hill had only played two snaps so far this season, both coming as an extra versus the Oakland Raiders. He stepped in and handled a D-line that ranked third in QB hits (per Pro-Football Reference)
“I prepare like I’m playing,” Hill said following the Vikings 38-20 win. “That’s how everyone is supposed to be. You go out there and play like you’re finnin to be out there and be the starter. That’s how my preparation is. I know I’m not starting but I’m starting. That’s how Rico [Dennison] teaches, like you’re finnin to go out there and play. We are over there in the game, we aren’t over there bullcrapping. Riley gave me a heads up anyways. He said ‘listen, be ready to go.’ So I’m like, OK let me get my stuff together.”
Hill is not short on experience as a fill-in. Since being signed off Jacksonville’s practice squad in ’16, he has started 15 games and appeared in 32. He won the starting right tackle job out of camp last year but was replaced by Brian O’Neill, who has emerged as the Vikings most reliable lineman.
“It’s next man up,” Hill said. “We always preach that and that’s what we stick to. One of us goes down you have to be able to come in there and not miss a beat. It was a big and I’m glad I helped a team win.”
Backup guard Dakota Dozier was also given a tough task on Sunday, facing Eagles DT Fletcher Cox, who is widely considered one of the top five players at his position in the NFL. Dozier made his second start of the year filling in for starting guard Josh Kline.
“In this league you get seven guys dressed, maybe eight, you need guys who can play multiple spots,” Dozier said. “Whenever an opportunity comes, you can’t say ‘oh well I’m a better left or I’m a better right,’ no you have to go play. The guys on this team understand that we’re going to back these guys up and come to play, wherever that is.”
For the second straight week, the Vikings saw a great deal of success using play-actions and bootlegs to help create time for Cousins to throw downfield.
“Any time when you get a defense flowing it gives us a chance to hit it deep, a chance to get those shots and we hit them,” Dozier said.
“The play-actions, they think we’re going to run the ball all the time, which we’re known for but they help a lot. Kirk made the throws and guys are making catches, I’m like, ‘man it’s that easy?'” Hill said.
Play-action usage up big these last 2 games. Cousins has thrown for 150 yds using PA in back-to-back weeks after having one such game previously. Per @ESPNStatsInfo: Weeks 1-4: 66% comp. pct, 197 yards, 6.8 ypa, 1-0 TD/INT
Weeks 5-6: 78% comp. pct, 321 yards, 13.9 ypa, 3-0 TD/INT
— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) October 13, 2019
When asked after the game about the deep shots hitting, head coach Mike Zimmer pointed to his O-line.
“It’s protection first,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure you can protect and if a team is going to do that, then you’ve got an opportunity to hit some down the field. But you’ve got to protect and most of them are coming off play-action.”
While the Eagles made a comeback to close the gap to seven points in the third quarter, the Vikings had putting a dagger in Philadelphia with the pass and pounding out the clock with the run game. Overall Minnesota gained 122 yards on 35 carries.
“As an offensive lineman one of my favorite things is imposing our will,” Dozier said. “When we can move a team when they know it’s coming, there’s nothing better.”
Hill said they especially enjoyed running at the end considering Eagles linebacker Zach Brown had made comments about Cousins and the passing game being the “weak link.”
“We love that,” he said. “Brown, we let him hear it. You come into our house and we’re going to let him hear it.”