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Analyst: Zimmer tackle rotation versus Eagles 'horrible'

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.--Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemingly has made all the right moves this season. That is, until Sunday's fiasco in Philly. Minnesota walked into Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia with a 5-0 record, but exited shaken by a 2...

Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer confers with line judge Sarah Thomas on a call in the first quarter of the game with the Houston Texans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer confers with line judge Sarah Thomas on a call in the first quarter of the game with the Houston Texans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.-Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemingly has made all the right moves this season. That is, until Sunday's fiasco in Philly.

Minnesota walked into Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia with a 5-0 record, but exited shaken by a 21-10 loss to the Eagles. Mark Schlereth, a former Pro Bowl offensive lineman and longtime ESPN analyst, said Zimmer's decision to rotate offensive tackles contributed to the defeat.

The Vikings inserted recently signed Jake Long at left tackle for 13 plays in the first half while moving starter T.J. Clemmings to right tackle and taking starter Jeremiah Sirles out of the game. Long gave up two strip sacks on quarterback Sam Bradford, and the Vikings lost both fumbles.

"I just think it's a bad coaching decision to put those (tackles) in that position," Schlereth said in a phone interview. "Especially on the road with the crowd noise in Philly and with a (Philadelphia) defense that flat-out is nothing but speed and penetration.

"Mike Zimmer, don't get me wrong, he's done a phenomenal job of coaching that team, but that's a horrible decision. ... You opened up a Pandora's Box on the road against a really good defense, and you got your butt kicked because of it."

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Schlereth played for Washington and Denver from 1989-2000, making two Pro Bowls and starting at guard on three teams that won the Super Bowl. He was an ESPN NFL analyst for 15 years, and is now a Denver sports radio host.

The Vikings have been without starting left tackle Matt Kalil since Week 2 and starting right tackle Andre Smith since Week 4 because of season-ending injuries. Their replacements, Clemmings and Sirles, both started the season as backups.

Minnesota signed Long, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, as a free agent Oct. 11. Long tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in 2013 and 2014 and was on the field for just 11 plays in four late-season games with Atlanta in 2015. Sunday's game in Philadelphia was his first game action since then.

Long had five practices with the Vikings, with just one in pads. On Sunday, after playing in four series in the first half, he did not play at all in the second half.

"It's a tough task because Clemmings already is challenged anyhow, and then they ask him to flip-flop back and forth from left to right tackle," Schlereth said. "If you're going to make that decision, then do it at home where you don't have to deal with crowd noise and when your guys can communicate.

"My thought on rotating guys (on the offensive line) is that usually you take one problem and you create two or three issues. I would rather move one guy in and then you give that guy help."

Zimmer said Long was "rusty," but that his health was not a factor. Long said his knee is fine and that he simply must "play better."

Long, 31, is a nine-year NFL veteran. He said that was the first time he ever had been part of a tackle rotation.

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"You've just got to stay loose on the sideline," he said. "That's the biggest thing, not getting stiff."

The tackle rotation was new to Clemmings, as well.

"When coach asks you to do something, you do it, whether it's comfortable or not," he said. "There's no rhythm. You make a rhythm and find a rhythm.''

Some believe Long's injuries make it unlikely he ever will be the player he was early in his NFL career. Schlereth, however, believes Long could help the Vikings once he becomes comfortable.

"I thought he took some good sets (against the Eagles)," Schlereth said. "He's a good player. He's got a great body. And his mechanics, he does some things and you say, 'That's awesome.'

"But obviously there's going to be some rust, there's going to be some issues, when you haven't played in two years or something. ... I just thought they put (Clemmings, Sirles and Long) all in a really crappy position doing that on the road in Philly."

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