If there's anything the Vikings and the rest of the NFL can take away from the Buccaneers' stunning blowout of the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55, it's this: for all of the talk about the importance of the quarterback position, offensive lines still matter a lot. Conversely, so does a defense's ability to rush the passer.
The Chiefs didn't lose 31-9 because Patrick Mahomes was simply out-dueled by Tom Brady. They lost because their injury-riddled offensive line had no shot against the Buccaneers' dominant front four. Without Week 1 starters Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz, and Kelechi Osemele, the Chiefs were down to a bunch of reserves up front. Former Viking Mike Remmers had to play left tackle, guard Andrew Wylie moved to right tackle, and November practice squad signee Stefen Wisniewski was forced into action at right guard.
Unsurprisingly, Mahomes was under constant pressure. He dropped back to pass 56 times and was pressured on 29 of those, with 27 of them coming against a pass-rush of four or fewer Tampa Bay players (per ESPN Stats & Info). In other words, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles didn't have to send blitzes to get after Mahomes. He was only sacked three times, but Mahomes was almost never able to stand in a clean pocket and go through his progressions unscathed.
You have to imagine that Kirk Cousins could relate to Mahomes' pain on Sunday. In some ways, watching the Chiefs' turnstile offensive line must've felt familiar to a lot of Vikings fans.
Hopefully Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and other Vikings decision-makers were watching, too. Because this game served as a reminder of the two biggest areas Minnesota needs to address this offseason: protecting the passer on offense and getting after the passer on defense.
Whether via free agency or the draft, the Vikings need to continue to try to fix their perpetually under-performing offensive line. That means not being satisfied with the likes of Dakota Dozier, Pat Elflein, or Dru Samia at guard. Interior pressure can ruin a quarterbacks' day, like we say with Cousins countless times this season. Mahomes found that out the hard way, as Buccaneers defensive tackles Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh were all over the place.
It means investing legitimate resources into replacing Dozier at left guard. And if Riley Reiff has to be a cap casualty and Ezra Cleveland shifts to left tackle, it means investing resources in finding a right guard, too. The Chiefs' awful O-line gave Mahomes zero chance in this game. The Buccaneers' impressive O-line, which featured first-round pick Tristan Wirfs and an excellent interior trio, gave Brady plenty of time and paved the way for 150 rushing yards from Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II.
The Vikings also have to address their pass rush, which was one of the NFL's worst in 2020. Getting Danielle Hunter back will help, obviously. But that's not enough. Minnesota could benefit greatly from adding talent at both defensive end and three-technique defensive tackle this offseason. Between Vea, Suh, and edge rushers Shaquille Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, Tampa Bay's defensive line was a critical part of their victory.
Should the Vikings eventually try to upgrade from Cousins at quarterback? Perhaps. But the last couple Super Bowls have shown that it's not all about the QB. The 2019 49ers came a play away from winning it with Jimmy Garoppolo because they had a good offensive line and a dominant pass rush. The Vikings could do the same with Cousins, who is better than Garoppolo. This year, the Chiefs showed that even if you have Patrick Mahomes, you still need to be able to protect him.
The Vikings have a chance to be a great team in 2021, but this Super Bowl was yet another reminder of the importance of trench play in the NFL. Hopefully Spielman and company were taking notes.
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