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Vikings' Interior O-Line Looms as Major Concern Against Eagles' Front

Kevin O'Connell and the Vikings have to find a way to scheme around a mismatch in the trenches.
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The Eagles are strong in a lot of areas, but the biggest looming mismatch in Thursday night's game is Philadelphia's defensive line against the interior of the Vikings' offensive line.

The interior trio — and specifically its ability to effectively pass protect — was clearly Minnesota's most prominent area of weakness on offense coming into the 2023 campaign after it went unaddressed this offseason. Things went roughly as expected in Sunday's loss against the Buccaneers, as Ezra Cleveland, Ed Ingram, and Austin Schlottmann (who replaced an injured Garrett Bradbury at center after just seven snaps) combined to allow seven pressures and a sack.

Cleveland earned very high marks in pass protection against Tampa Bay, but he's in his fourth year and has never earned a PFF pass-blocking grade of 56 or better (60 is average) in his three previous seasons. Schlottmann is a replacement-level backup center who has allowed 17 pressures and a sack in his last four full games for the Vikings. Ingram, who led all offensive linemen in pressures as a rookie, surrendered four more in Sunday's game. He was charged with allowed Antoine Winfield's strip-sack — there appeared to be some kind of communication issue — and also knocked the ball right out of Kirk Cousins' hands on the Vikings' first lost fumble.

It was an unfortunate accident, but those have been far too common for Ingram, who caused a negative play by inadvertently stepping on Cousins' foot twice last season.

Now the Vikings' interior O-line faces what will likely be its toughest task all year. They're preparing to go against an Eagles defensive tackle group that includes Fletcher Cox (though he's listed as questionable), Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, and standout rookie Jalen Carter. In Philadelphia's Week 1 win over the Patriots, Carter racked up eight pressures and a sack in an utterly dominant debut. It's a group that fires off the ball with power and athleticism.

"One of the best fronts, if not the best in the league right now," Kevin O'Connell said this week. Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips echoed that same sentiment.

If the Vikings are going to pull off an upset against the Eagles, O'Connell and Phillips have to figure out a way to scheme around the mismatch up front. The plan can't be to hope for the best against Carter and Cox and the Eagles' other DTs; that's a recipe for Schlottmann and Ingram and Cleveland to get eaten alive.

Maybe it's outside runs and screen passes. Maybe it's a general focus on concepts that get the ball out of Cousins' hands quickly. Whatever it might be, the Vikings have to find a way to mitigate this colossal mismatch as much as possible on Thursday night if their offense is going to move the ball.

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