The Beauty of the Vikings’ Max Protection Deep Shot

Over the past several seasons, the Vikings have developed the reputation of having a strong offense but not one that’s overly explosive. Ideally, that can start to change in 2022. These past few seasons have featured an encouraging trend: some success with the max protection deep shot.

Now, let’s begin with a few words about what I mean. Most of us know what a deep shot is. The QB – in this case, Kirk Cousins – is throwing the ball deep down the field toward his receiver. The goal is to pick up huge yards in an efficient manner. Even if the ball is incomplete, there is some value in threatening a defense deep. Doing so forces them to remember that failing to guard that area of the field can lead to them giving up 6 points in a hurry.

Take a look at the clip below for a good example:

This one is a great example. Minnesota hits Justin Jefferson deep down the field for a 50-yard touchdown. As you’ll see, though, they didn’t send four verticals. Instead, they kept Dalvin Cook and C.J. Ham to help with the protection. Eventually, Cook leaks out to give Cousins a checkdown option, but you get the point. The max protection deep shot allows the Vikings to give a run look before hitting one of their sensational WRs down the field.

Consider this other example:

The Next Gen Stats video offers a somewhat different perspective. As you’ll see, the Vikings look like they want to run the ball. They’re in 21 personnel (two RBs, a TE, and two WRs). After the ball is snapped, Tyler Conklin stays in to block and so does Ham. Cook merely works up the middle into the short area of the field. All together, the Vikings have eight of their players near the line of scrimmage (nine if you include the QB).

Keeping so many players close to the LOS forces Pittsburgh to similarly keep their players up, leaving K.J. Osborn with the a one-on-one matchup. Justin Jefferson runs an intermediate crossing route, prompting #39 for Pittsburgh to step up. By layering the routes, the Vikings are able to create more room for Osborn, who scores a long TD.

One more example:

Vikings fans know this play well. So much of our focus has been on Jefferson catching the ball, making two Titans defenders miss, and then scoring his first NFL TD while doing the griddy. Take a moment, though, to consider what’s going on near the line of scrimmage. Minnesota begins the play in i-formation. They have a tight end in a three-point stance on the right side. Again, it looks like a run. Instead, Jefferson finds open grass down the field. Those two realities – beginning the play by hinting run before Jefferson finds room deep – aren’t disconnected, folks.

Compared to NFL coaches, I have essentially no knowledge about football. What I can say, though, is that the Vikings have found some recent success when they lean on the max protection deep shot. Kirk Cousins is commonly criticized for being too focused on the short area of the field, but he’s actually very good at passing deep down the field. Perhaps we’ll see Kevin O’Connell feature this play more prominently than in past years.