Vikings Dealt ‘Fatal Blow’ to Playoff Run, Analyst Says

Kevin O'Connell, Vikings

Getty Head coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings missing the heart of their offensive line could be the dagger in the team’s playoff hopes.

Starting right tackle Brian O’Neill suffered a partially torn ACL injury in last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, landing the Pro Bowl tackle on the injured reserve list this week. O’Neill’s season is shut down, with head coach Kevin O’Connell revealing he hopes O’Neill will be recovered by the start of the 2023 season.

In the meantime, Minnesota still has a playoff appearance in the bank. However, SKOR North’s Judd Zulgad said any chances of a deep playoff run are kaput with O’Neill out.

“I don’t think that we can downplay the fact that the loss of O’Neill… is an absolutely major and potentially fatal blow to any type of real playoff run,” Zulgad said on January 4. “He is the leader. His loss is absolutely mammoth.”

Vikings Will Find it Difficult to Replace Brian O’Neill

Coming off the first Pro Bowl nod in his career last season, O’Neill realized his potential as a perennial Pro Bowler, earning his second mention this season as the seventh highest-graded tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus (PFF).

Replacing him will not be an apples-to-apples affair, however, the Vikings may not be sunk on the right side of the line.

Oli Udoh filled in admirably for O’Neill after the starting right tackle went out in the first quarter. Udoh posted the highest grade (69.8) of any Vikings lineman on Sunday. He posted a 74.0 pass-blocking grade and a serviceable 63.2 run-blocking grade. After an abysmal 2021 season playing right guard, Udoh showed he’s a capable backup at his natural position last week.

Christian Darrisaw, graded as the second-best tackle in the league by PFF, is still protecting Kirk Cousins‘ blindside, making the edges relatively secure.

However, the interior offensive line could be the larger concern.

Vikings Offensive Line’s Success Hinges on Garrett Bradbury

While Cousins’ performance this season has been a byproduct of one of the more respectable offensive fronts in Minnesota has seen in the past decade, it still hasn’t been pretty.

Cousins has taken a beating this season with a league-high 78 hits, per Pro Football Reference.

That’s largely come with defenses focusing their pressure on the interior offensive line. Guards Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram rank among the worst guards in the league this season.

Cleveland and Ingram lead all guards in hits allowed with 20 and 18, respectively. The next guard has allowed 11 hits.

Ingram has allowed the most pressures (58) in the league, while Cleveland ranks third with 51 pressures this season. Ingram also leads all guards with 11 sacks allowed, which is the second-most in the league among all linemen.

The Vikings guards have been attacked relentlessly considering their top-10 duo on the bookends have been stalwart this season. Defenses exploiting the interior is only natural.

Starting center Garrett Bradbury, who has been out the past four weeks with a back injury, could return in time for the playoffs, which could offer considerable help for the rest of the offensive interior.

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