Vikings, Steelers need better protection plan

John Sullivan (Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY)

The Vikings and Steelers have both struggled to protect their quarterbacks and get to the opposition's quarterback. See the statistics that shows the struggles in the trenches for both teams and the reaction from players and coaches.

Adrian Peterson was asked by the British media this week if his appearance in the TV show "The League" would lead to him chasing the role of Britian's favorite 007 agent, James Bond.

The Minnesota Vikings can only hope Peterson and his offensive line can protect their quarterback as well as 007. The Vikings' No. 7, Christian Ponder, won't play because of a fractured rib, meaning the less mobile Matt Cassel will be the commodity the Vikings are looking to protect.

To date, Ponder has been sacked 10 times. That is tied for sixth-most in the league with, among other teams, the Pittsburgh Steeler, whom the Vikings face Sunday in London.

"We're not obviously executing as well as we need to to be successful down in and down out. We've got two guys that are good at this point and two other guys that aren't doing it the right way on the same play," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier of his offensive line. "We've got to find a way to get five guys executing correctly on each and every play. You're going to have some moments where someone may miss a block or miss an assignment. We've got to get a little more consistent play. There's some things we've got to look at in what we're doing and figure out how to help our players be more consistent in what they're doing."

Last year, the Vikings were among the better teams in the NFL avoiding the sack. Ponder was sacked 32 times. This year, if those 10 sacks to date were extrapolated over a 16-game season, it would translate into 53 sacks. Only one team last year, the Arizona Cardinals, had more than that last year.

But, as mentioned, the Steelers haven't been any better at keeping QB Ben Roethlisberger upright.

"It's a little bit of everything," Roethlisberger said of the sack issues. "It's running backs blocking, tight ends. There were a couple of those sacks on me trying to make plays on third-and-long. You take those with a grain of salt. It's just a little bit of everything. I don't think there is one glaring issue."

The Steelers lost center Maurkice Pouncey for the season in the opener, and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin reportedly met with Pouncey's replacement, Fernando Velasco about becoming a better leader.

But Tomlin also said his offense needs to stay out of third-and-long situations to help avoid putting his quarterback in unfavorable situations.

"Game situations and circumstances are part of that from a pure numbers standpoint. When you're in predictable situations because you're behind, obviously that's going to dictate how certain people play football, and rightfully so," Tomlin said. "The raw numbers itself are kind of a product of that."

The Steelers are 31st in the league converting only 28 percent of their third downs. That, along with Roethlisberger's 10 sacks already, should combine to give the Vikings' some pass-rushing opportunities.

They could use it.

The Vikings have only four sacks on the season, with only the Steelers and New York Giants worse. To make matters worse, two of Minnesota's four sacks have come from Erin Henderson, a linebacker. Both of those came against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, a game in which the Vikings decided to blitz Henderson and Greenway to help apply pressure.

"We need to play better up front. It's hard for our team to be successful if our offensive line and our defensive line are not playing at a high level," Frazier said. "Our guys know that, our team knows that and we've got to help them to get to that point."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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