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ESPN Lists RG Ed Ingram as Vikings' Biggest Flaw as Playoffs Approach

Will the Vikings consider benching their second-round rookie before the postseason?

Vikings rookie right guard Ed Ingram isn't merely struggling in pass protection, he's on pace to give up a historic number of pressures this season.

Ingram has allowed 44 pressures this season, according to PFF, which leads all players through 12 weeks. No one else has more than 35. The most pressures ever allowed by a guard in the PFF era (since 2006) is 65, achieved by the Raiders' Alex Leatherwood last season and the Giants' David Diehl in 2011. Both players spent time at tackle during those seasons but played the majority of their snaps at guard.

Ingram, with 44 pressures in 11 games, is on pace to allow 68 this season (granted, with a 17-game schedule). The second-round pick out of LSU has done that while playing exclusively at guard. He ranks 57th out of 60 qualified guards in PFF's pass blocking grade and has been charged with giving up eight sacks, three more than the next-closest player at his position.

ESPN writer Bill Barnwell recently wrote about the biggest flaw for the NFL's top ten Super Bowl contenders. For nine of the teams, it was a broad area of the game like "pass rush" (Dolphins) or "rushing offense" (Bills) or "game management" (Cowboys)." The Vikings were the only team where Barnwell selected a single player — Ingram.

I'm not going to put "the spotlight" or "prime-time television." It's easy to criticize Kirk Cousins for his lack of production in nationally televised games, but remember that he and the Vikings upset a 13-3 Saints team in New Orleans as 7.5-point underdogs during the 2019 playoffs. History is filled with quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco and Eli Manning who simply weren't good enough to win a Super Bowl ... until they won a Super Bowl.

Instead, I have to point toward the rookie right guard on Minnesota's line. Ingram is this season's Hakeem Adeniji as the overmatched young lineman every defensive coordinator wants to try to exploit heading into game day. The struggles of Adeniji and the rest of the Cincinnati offensive line finally sunk the Bengals in the second half of Super Bowl LVI.

Ingram has allowed seven sacks in 11 games, a remarkable number for an interior lineman. His 85.5% pass block win rate ranks 61st out of 63 qualifying guards. He is better as a run-blocker, but he is a glaring weakness for the Vikings as they close out a noncompetitive race in the NFC North.

For each team, Barnwell also chose a "team to avoid" based on their weakness. As you might expect, his selection for the Vikings is the Dallas Cowboys.

Team to avoid: Dallas Cowboys. They were able to exploit Ingram multiple times during their 40-3 win in Week 11. They also had success going after reserve left tackle Blake Brandel, who replaced the injured Christian Darrisaw. No team has a deeper, more explosive pass rush than the Cowboys, who can line up a mismatch over Ingram on every single snap. Micah Parsons vs. Ingram is about as significant of a lopsided battle as you'll see between two players in the NFL.

With six games to play in the regular season, there's been no indication that the Vikings are considering making a change at right guard. To Ingram's credit, he's been strong as a run blocker this season, ranking 23rd of 60 in that area by PFF grade. The athletic tools that caused him to be drafted in the second round have shown up in the running game. He's been a good fit for this offense in that regard.

Ingram is also coming off his best game of the season in pass protection. In last Thursday night's win over the Patriots, he allowed a season-low one pressure — his previous low was three — and wasn't charged with a sack for just the fourth time in 11 games. His 72.8 pass blocking grade was easily a career high.

The Vikings' hope is that performances like that will become more frequent now that Ingram is deep into his rookie season.

"I just think Ed continues to ascend," offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said on Thursday. "I think I mentioned before, we knew that there would be a little bit of growing pains playing a rookie at right guard in the NFL with the pass rushers we’ve seen, starting off the year against Kenny Clark and Green Bay. There were going to be some times where he’s got to kind of learn the hard way, and none of us want that to happen — you wish they were all Pro Bowlers up there that have five or 10 years of experience where they’ve just seen it all, but some of that stuff was new to him.

"I think the more he sees the talent level is there, the strength, the anchor, all of that stuff is in his body, the athleticism. You just have to see some things and learn a few hard mistakes, but he’s continued to progress."

Phillips said the Vikings chose Ingram as their starting right guard this year for no reason other than the belief that he was the best option for the job. He beat out veterans Jesse Davis and Chris Reed in a training camp competition. Davis was then traded to the Steelers, where he's been a backup. Reed has been a weekly healthy scratch for the Vikings. 

"He played because we felt like he was the best player we had at that position," Phillips said. "It wasn’t, ‘Hey, we drafted this guy, we’ve got to get him in.’ We were comfortable whoever that person would have been. ... Ultimately we just felt like the ceiling was higher. Maybe he wasn’t quite as experienced, maybe he hadn’t seen it as much, but when it came to blocking a guy 1-on-1, when he had to anchor down or when he had to kind of redirect on a rush where he gets edged and he cleans the pocket and presses and creates some space for the quarterback, we just felt like he was the better option."

12 weeks into the season, despite one slightly encouraging game against the Patriots, Ingram's pass blocking has been a complete disaster. If he reverts to his usual struggles against the Jets on Sunday and over the next several games, will the Vikings consider a change? 

The only other true guard options on the roster are Reed and Austin Schlottmann, although tackles Blake Brandel and Oli Udoh could play there if needed. Udoh was the Vikings' starting right guard last season and played poorly, allowing 45 pressures. In 2020, Dakota Dozier was Minnesota's left guard and gave up 46 pressures. That puts Ingram's 44 pressures in 11 games into a bit more context.

The Vikings clearly like what Ingram does as a run blocker and believe he has the tools to improve in pass protection. But if it doesn't happen soon, it might be in their best interest to consider a move to someone like Brandel or Schlottmann or Reed before the postseason begins.

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