With the highest of expectations coming into the 2018 season, the Vikings fell short Sunday and are now officially out of the playoffs. With a brand new quarterback and offensive coordinator, everything looked to be on the upswing. With everything to play for, the Vikings didn’t execute well enough against a better team on Sunday. I believe this game against the Bears showcased the main problems the Vikings offense had throughout the whole season and some things we could be using for next season to have a consistent, successful offense. Let’s take a look at the Vikings vs the Bears, week 17.
The first, and main, problem I will be looking at is the offensive line. Yes, I know it’s the most obvious chink in the armor but it is a glaring problem that hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should have over the past several years. Running the football, the offensive line had a few good plays but overall didn’t do great. This is why the run game was so inconsistent and poor all year. The Vikings’ running backs, Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, are both great backs. Even with a decent line, these guys would be going off. The Vikings were 25th in the league with 4.2 yards per attempt rushing. This is not ideal.
In pass protection, the line was just as bad, maybe even worse. They consistently gave up pressure, especially on important downs. Here is one 3rd down where the interior line gives up pressure right away.
This was a great play call by offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. If given more time, this is most likely a first down. And here is a 2nd down play.
If given more time, Kirk Cousins could have stepped up in the pocket and thrown it to a wide open Adam Thielen for a big gain to get out of their own end zone to keep the drive going. This was especially bad since this was the 4th three-and-out in a row. On the bright side, Stefanski knows some ways to help out the offensive line. There were some plays where Stefanski had a tight end or even receiver help block or chip the edge defender, and had Dalvin Cook help block as well. In this play we have two players helped chip the edge defenders and the line does a solid job but does get called for holding once Cousins starts to scramble. Regardless, bringing in two players to help block and for the most part the line did very well on this play.
I want to see more of this in the future. Overall, the Vikings offensive line has to get better. It is very difficult to have a successful offense with this poor of an offensive line. Yes, the Vikings did rank middle of the road in hits and sacks, but that is in large part on how quickly Cousins would get rid of the ball.
Offensive Scheme/ Playcalling
Like I said in my article about the offense, and it’s main problems for the future, the scheme that was left over by John Defilippo wasn’t right for this offense. This scheme hurt us all year and especially against a great defense like the Bears have. Once again, we reverted to the mesh concepts on 3rd or 4th and short situations. A mesh concept is having at least two receivers crossing the middle of the field from opposite sides. I was wishing we would have came up with something different for these situations but we still had these plays left over. Here is an example of when the Vikings ran a mesh concept in a key situation against the Bears. The Bears safety makes a great play here crashing down, but we can’t be calling the same mesh concept on this down, especially since the Bears are playing zone coverage.
Mesh concepts work a lot better against man coverage since it can create natural picks for the receivers to get open, and it is harder for defensive backs to cover that much ground across the field. Against zone, the defenders can wait for the route to develop over to their spot in the zone.
In this next example, I like the formation and decision to pass from under center, but I don’t know why all the routes are going deep here. Our offensive line wasn’t good enough and the routes are staying on the outside. This is not what you want to do deep on against this defense. You have to go towards the middle. Here is the play.
Another type of play I would have liked to see is the screen. We didn’t run one screen against the Bears last week. I would have like to see at least a couple to Dalvin Cook. The Patriots used the running back screen game very well against the Bears. I thought for sure we would have at least done a couple of these.
Let’s take a look at some of the good.
Here is a simple quick slant to Thielen. The linebacker had to decide to cover Rudolph here or Thielen, easy yards. The Bears look to be playing man coverage on the left side of the field (bottom of the video) and zone coverage on the right side of the field (top of the video). Generally, slants work well against man coverage. Cousins reads it and makes a good play.
And here is another one. Very simple concept but it works well against the Bears defense. It’s similar to a spot concept. A spot or snag concept is a simple route concept that stretches the field out horizontally and vertically. It creates a triangle read for the quarterback. It makes the reads quicker and works well against zone defenses. Not much yards, but helped keep moving the ball on drives we scored on. The only difference with this play is that the outside receiver does a curl route instead of a corner route.
One thing I wanted to see more of is having more plays under center. Plays under center make you more unpredictable and we have the personnel to succeed under center. Kirk Cousins is typically better playing under center and teams in the NFL don’t run as many plays under center and when they do, it is usually a running play. Having more passing plays under center, play action or not, creates more unpredictably on offense. It also usually means having heavier personnel to help run block and help in pass protection. We have three talented tight ends and a fullback to use in the passing game. We have to utilize them more. It could have worked really well for the short passing game against the Bears and even the deeper passing game. And when we did run more plays under center they were on our touchdown drive. Here is a play action, 12 personnel (1 running back and 2 tight ends) and a deep over route to Thielen.
This is great on multiple levels: being under center creates more unpredictability, play action sucks the linebackers in, and the deep over route against a defense that is generally weak against that type of route works wonders. We should have been doing more plays like this. Not necessarily only play action, but more passes from under center. Later in the article you will see a touchdown off a similar concept and formation.
Overall, I was surprised to see such a solid game plan by Stefanski. Based on our offensive success on Sunday, I thought that the game plan was just not good enough. But, Stefanski brought some great plays/calls to the table to help move the ball. This game as a whole showcases why John Defillipo’s offensive scheme couldn’t be successful in the long term and that we need a new offensive scheme for next year, regardless of the level of play of the offensive line.
It’s always easy to blame the quarterback when the offense is struggling. Cousins has had his fair share of poor play this season, but I believe he wasn’t the main reason for the offense’s struggles. But, let’s take a look at some of his inconsistency against the Bears this past Sunday.
This is 3rd down on the first drive of the game. At first, it doesn’t look like a poor read, but on further views, it is. Cousins attempts to throw it to Diggs running across the field and the safety makes a great play. But, the only reason why the deep safety was able to make the play was because he had to come crashing down on the route. This opens up the deep over route. If Cousins holds onto the ball for a second longer, he can hit that deeper route and get a first down.
Here is a great play call by Stefanski. A deep post against the 2 high safety look that gets open. With a better throw here it could be a big gain for Thielen and company. But, Cousins leads him too much to the left. It wasn’t a terrible throw but we need a better throw especially when we have a chance at a big play in a big game. Cousins was pressured here as well, but I still would have liked to see a better throw. You can see the throw goes too far to the left on the second angle. He usually is a great deep passing QB, let’s keep seeing that Cousins.
The other poor throw/read by Cousins in this game is this one. He stares down his first read and almost gets picked off. We haven’t seen too much of this from him this season, but this just a poor read and throw by Cousins. He’s been in the league for too long to do something like this in a big time situation.
One more thing, even though he didn’t do this game, he has to work on his fumbling problem. Not sure why he has fumbled so much but he does. He did a lot better with it in the last quarter of the season and it was great to see. Hopefully the last quarter of the season is an indicator of solving his fumbling problems. Cousins also seems to be more hesitant throwing 50/50 type balls. Here is one play where he took a shot to Robinson. I like to more of this even though it wasn’t a great throw.
Partly, I am glad he doesn’t do too much of this, because it might create a lot more turnovers but, we do have two great receivers that are great at contested catches. He did it far more often earlier in the season. Possibly because the defense was a lot more inconsistent back then so he might have felt more inclined to take chances. Also, throughout the season he has talked more and more about complementary football. This means the defense, offense, and special teams really working more together rather than separately. If the offense doesn’t turn the ball over than the defense has an easier job to do. I feel this has had an impact on throwing into more tight coverage.
Now, how about some positives for our quarterback! We haven’t seen much of it from the media and fans alike, but going over the tape, I was actually surprised at how well he played considering the circumstances. This play shows some elite play from both Cousins and Diggs. With pressure coming up the middle, Cousins is forced to throw off his back foot, but still delivers a perfect pass to a covered Diggs who makes a tremendous catch.
This is the touchdown throw to Diggs. He goes over his reads very quickly while being pressured and delivers a perfect pass off his back foot to Diggs in a big time situation.
Here is a play I really like to see. Cousins evades the blitz by circling back to his left and throws on the run to Diggs. This is the exact type of plays we want to see more of from Cousins. He hasn’t used his mobility to create plays enough, but with this play he does it perfectly. This is on a big drive as well.
Most of the game, Cousins had to resort to quick passing. This is due to the Bears defense and offensive line play. Overall, Cousins has played well for us this year. And this is behind a terrible offensive line and with a poor run game. He was inconsistent at times and could have played better down the stretch, but, considering everything else, he didn’t play poorly. If I were you, I would be excited for having him at quarterback. He had perhaps his best year statistically and that was with a poor offensive scheme, poor run game and terrible pass protection. If we do have a better offensive scheme and offensive line, Cousins needs to step up in coming back in games from behind. If the Vikings get an average offensive line that allows for: easier passing, a better running game, and an offensive coordinator that has a better overall offensive scheme, the Vikings may hopefully have consistent top 5-10 play from Cousins all year long. He just has to make sure he stays consistent as well. I believe in you Cousins.
The Vikings weren’t bad moving the ball on 1st and 2nd downs. They could consistently make it 3rd and medium or short, but we had terrible 3rd down percentage against the Bears and for most of the year. Either the defense knows the play we are going to do or the offensive line doesn’t hold up. Going 1 for 11 on 3rd downs isn’t going to get you far in this league. Overall, the Vikings were ranked 25th in the NFL at 3rd down conversion with a 35.8 percentage conversion rate. Most of the poor 3rd down plays I have already shown. This is where we fail the most, if it’s from the offensive line, play call, quarterback, or even receivers dropping easy passes.
The Vikings offense had a very up and down year. They fired their offensive coordinator and had issues in consistency across the board on offense. There is no one person or group of players to blame for their inconsistency. I still think the offensive line is their main problem, but we can’t put the sole blame on them. If this offense wants to be more successful next year we are going to need a better offensive line, better/more suitable offensive scheme for this group of players, and some more consistency from the quarterback. This game showcased all the problems facing the Vikings offensively and why they were so inconsistent. Hats off to the great Bears defense, but we should have still played better. Let’s hope the Vikings can make the right changes and hit their stride next year. Remember everyone, one year can make a huge difference. Look at the 2016 Eagles vs 2017 Eagles and last year’s Browns vs the Browns of this year. A few right changes can turn this offense into one of the best in the league. Let’s hope for a great 2019 for the Vikes!