Imaginative, Explosive, Dynamic: These Words Should Define Minnesota’s Offense

Nov 14, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin (83) catches a pass in the end zone for a touchdown in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For good reason, much of the focus this week has been on Minnesota’s offense. Josh Frey offered a cautionary note, Erin Henderson (former Viking!) praised the team’s commitment to being aggressive, I discussed Justin Jefferson’s huge game, and Noah Moore takes a look at whether the offense has turned the corner. If penalties are your thing, check out LeeAnn Lowman’s discussion of how the team – especially the offense – has struggled to stop those yellow flags from soaring through the air.

Amidst all the overreaction, underreaction, and balanced assessments, I’ve often found myself wondering about how Minnesota’s offense ought to proceed. The words I’ve come back to are imaginative, explosive, and dynamic.

Admittedly, the Vikings have had some tough luck when it comes to their OCs. Pat Shurmur’s and Kevin Stefanski’s success led to them moving onto greener pastures. Gary Kubiak did reasonably well, but he opted for retirement. The end result is Klint Kubiak stepping up as the OC. It’s his first time with that responsibility, which has been evident at numerous points this season. The in-game adjustments have been lousy for most of the year.

Moving forward, Minnesota’s offense needs to do far better following the opening drive. We saw that occur against the Chargers, but Green Bay will be a tougher test (even if they do have some injuries).

Let’s start with a simple but effective type of offensive play: the play action. Literally every team in the NFL uses it, but some are far more effective than others. Kirk Cousins happens to thrive when using play action, largely because of the accuracy he can throw with when he gets an extra moment. It also helps the QB because the WRs can often get a touch more open. According to Pro Football Reference, Minnesota has only used play action 72 times out of their 341 pass attempts. Folks, that’s roughly 21.1% of the time. Last season, Minnesota used play action almost 25.6% of the time. Minnesota’s offense ought to be inching closer to the 25-30% range.

I know Cousins isn’t Vick, but the Vikings have used RPOs less than every other team in the NFL. There’s no way the Vikes should be the league leader here, but perhaps they ought to consider using it a touch more. Cousins moves better than people think.

Currently, Kirk Cousins is the highest-rated passer on PFF. His 90.0 passing grade is elite. Now, that grade doesn’t tell the whole story; there have been times when Kirk has made a good play without making the best play. A 4 yard pass to Conklin isn’t all bad, but it’s discouraging when the All-22 shows Thielen with tons of separation 20 yards deeper.

Even still, the point remains that Kirk has been mostly excellent.

Moving forward, the Vikings needs to ensure he can keep being excellent. Play actions, of course, are crucial. How about more bootlegs? Again, Kirk moves better than people think. A bootleg allows the QB to only read one side of the field. The Vikings can then layer their crossing routes with Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, players who happen to thrive on crossing routes. Oh, and let’s not forget that K.J. Osborn guy. The sophomore can play.

Perhaps call a screen in more unpredictable scenarios. Having Garrett Bradbury out may have caused the Vikings to get away from their screens a little bit, but it would be positive to see a renewed commitment to screens against an underrated Packers defense. Of course, they only really work when the defense doesn’t anticipate it. Calling it on a 2nd and 20 is fooling no one. We’ll see what they come up with for Sunday’s game plan.

Last week, Conklin scored a TD largely because a backup OT ran a route through the endzone. Brandel dragged his defender into Conklin’s defender, leaving the TE wide open. Take a peak at the video; you’ll lose sight of the defenders, but they’re on the ground when the camera comes back to them because Brandel got them to run into each other:

Coming into the game, who would would have guessed that a route by Brandel would allow Minnesota’s offense to score on a critical 4th down play at the goal line? The Chargers, quite evidently, weren’t prepared for it. That’s the kind of imagination the offense needs, especially at critical moments. Minnesota took the lead on that play and never gave it back.

The team will need to take another step forward against the Packers. Getting to 5-5 would mean the season is officially back on. Vikings fans will be ready to be hurt once again.