After an embarrassing, if not demoralizing loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, many, including myself, blamed the offensive line as one of the key reasons the team lost so badly. With just 4 days to prepare, that offensive line had a task against what was one of the best pass-rushing defenses in the league led by the current sack leader, Matthew Judon. What followed, instead of slaughter, was a back and forth, yet convincing win in Minnesota’s favor, mostly thanks to an offensive line that showed immense improvement compared to the game before.
Minnesota saw itself at the mercy of Micah Parsons and the rest of the Cowboys’ front seven, making Kirk’s life a living hell. Many held the offensive line to intense criticism as their allowed pressure directly affected the results at the game. With that being what most blamed the loss on, it was easy to see how they’d become the center of attention heading into the Thanksgiving bout with the New England Patriots, a team boasting Matt Judon as their star pass rusher and current league leader in sacks. So how did Minnesota’s line stack up against this vaunted New England defense? They scored 33 points and held Judon sack-less.
The offense line handled Judon at every angle he attacked from, whether it be the edge or attacking the interior, Judon only pierced the pocket for a QB hurry once, and that was against Ed Ingram. Otherwise, Judon was a non-factor all game long, an incredibly impressive accomplishment for a line that just spent the past week acting as turnstiles in front of Dallas.
Kirk had multiple clean pockets to work with, which furthered the success of the offense in another terrific game for Justin Jefferson who himself notched 9 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown. That stat line is all thanks to the O-Line clearing space and keeping a clean pocket for Kirk a majority of the game. The improvement compared to last Sunday is like night and day, and if the line can keep up this level of play then hopes of a deep playoff push are still alive.
The one thing the line couldn’t seem to get a hang of however, was with screen passes. In fact, it’s been an issue for the team all year as what was once one of the best angles of attack for the offense has turned into a liability in the playbook. The line simply isn’t making the important blocks you need early in a screen to give your runner room to maneuver. It’s an issue that looks like it won’t be magically solved overnight, so there’s still room for the line to grow in that department.
All in all, this game was a terrific improvement over the game against Dallas. This line proved it wasn’t overrated, Kirk got a prime time win that surprise, no one’s talking about, and the defense had a terrific stand on the last drive. It was a great team effort, and it proved they have the ability to bounce back after tough losses. Next week is against another stout defense with an offense now led by Mike White, an interesting match up. The line will have their hands full with players like Quinnen Williams, it’s now time to see if this line can get a streak going. You’re going to need to handle pressure in the playoffs, let’s see if this line is up to the test.