The Minnesota Vikings' offense line passed the first test.
The Vikings started five new offensive linemen (from left to right) to open the season: Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger and Mike Remmers. The crew kept Sam Bradford mostly clean (one sack) and helped spring rookie running back Dalvin Cook (127 yards).
"Well they played together in the Seattle game a little bit and they've been practicing this way for quite a while," Zimmer said of his line, via the team's official website. "I thought, a lot of the things that we did it was easy for them to communicate those things. I'm hopeful that they'll continue to get better."
More than anything, the group helped keep the Saints' pass rush at bay. Not having defenders draped on his back off the snap like last year, Bradford was able to pick apart the New Orleans with deep strikes -- averaging 22.2 air distance per completion (third highest in Week 1), per Next Gen Stats. The maligned QB also passed for a 9.6 air yards per attempt in the final three quarters.
"Like I said, all off season in the building we feel great about those guys up front," Bradford said of his blocking. "We've seen it during OTAs, we've seen it during training camp. I know we didn't play great as an offense during the preseason games. We've seen what we're capable of doing. I think those guys came out tonight. I think we had a good week of preparation.
"Like I said, we weren't really sure what to expect tonight. We talked a lot about playing by rule and making sure we were on the same page. Those guys up front they did a good job all week just making sure they were prepared. I think it showed tonight. They played fast, they played confident, we were in and out of the huddle, the tempo was great tonight, we were getting to the line early. I think we put pressure on them."
The Vikings entered the season with plenty of skepticism in their most recent attempt to rebuild the offensive line. Reiff and Remmers were both veterans without phenomenal game tape, whose previous teams did little to retain. Elflein, a third-round pick, was the first rookie to start at center since Mick Tingelhoff, back in the Year of Our Lord, 1962.
Reiff, in particular, was a rock on Bradford's blind side Monday, allowing zero hurries. Elfein displayed athleticism from the pivot that will bode well for Cook on outside runs this season.
The caveat you've been waiting for: It was against the Saints defense.
Yes, New Orleans trotted out a putrid D redux, but the characteristics the Vikings displayed Monday are transferable.
On the few times the Saints pressured Bradford, he was money. From Pro Football Focus:
There will surely be some stumbling blocks for the remade offensive line as we play the next 15 games. But for one night, the group looked sturdy and Bradford took advantage. If the biggest weakness on a team that disappointed in 2016 is finally plugged, Minnesota will be a force in the NFC.