Is the Vikings offense sustainable and good enough to make a true playoff run? This is the question I have been wondering since we routed the Dolphins and have recently put up 27 points against the Lions. The Vikings offense has struggled to put points up efficiently all year and has come to a halt since playing the Bears coming off of their bye week. The only thing that I believe will hold the Vikings back going into next week and possibly the playoffs, is the talent on the offensive line and the main passing scheme that was left over by John DeFilippo.
The Vikings showed up to Miami ready to PLAY. Their first 3 drives came up with touchdowns and had over 200 yards in offense in the first quarter alone. That is the most yards from any offense this year in the first quarter. The offense slowed down a bit in the 2nd and early in the 3rd quarters especially after a Miami pick 6. A lot of people are crediting this offensive success to running the football more and that the Miami defense didn’t have film on a Stefanski led offense. Both I believe are true to an extent, but I believe this offense is simply just better for our personnel on offense and our team as a whole. The next week the Vikings came out very slow with three 3 and outs against the Lions and got going late in the 2nd quarter. It was a good sign to see the offense and team in general not panic. They stayed calm and put together a great drive late in the first half and then got the Christmas Hail Mary touchdown to Rudolph. After that it was smooth sailing the rest of the game.
Over the course of the Vikings first game with Kevin Stefanski as their play caller, they used a lot more heavier personnel. The use of tight ends, fullbacks, and running backs helped produce the run game and set up play action. It even helped the pass game. The Vikings passed from under center and heavy personnel sets that helped out talent on the outside. Vikings converted better on 3rd downs and kept the defense uncomfortable for most of the game using no huddle and quick snap counts to keep the defense guessing. Stefanski’s play calling was a job well done, especially for his first game. He kept the defense guessing and was very efficient. While the run game was great and some of the passing game, there was still a glaring problem with the core of the offense that DeFilippo left behind. The main passing schemes. Even though I think DeFilippo will be able to have success in this league in the future and I wish the best for him, it just wasn’t working out this year for him and he wasn’t ready for his new role.
Early on, we had one of the best passing offenses in the NFL. No one could stop Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs from shredding their defenses. After the bye week, this all changed. And even though Stefanski’s new offense will most likely continue having success and do better overall, the main passing schemes that the Vikings still have will plague this team if we are unable to change things fast.
Teams figured out how to beat the Vikings passing offense. Plain and simple. Even Bobby Wagner, linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, declared after the game against the Vikings that they knew everything that we were going to do. Early on, we used the middle of the field a bit more and beat pass defenses with our offense. Our route schemes were doing really well against man defense and sometimes cover 3 zones. Our deep passing attack sometimes relied on receivers simply finding the holes in the zone and doing deep comeback routes. Teams started to play more aggressive coverage to beat the deep comeback routes and would simply drop back 7 players to help defend the pass. Zone coverage was working really well against our offense.
DeFilippo likes to use route concepts that do well against man coverage. Routes that create natural picks and rubs to give guys a little more space and to utilize play makers with yards after the catch abilities. When the opposing teams started to run more zone, we were less successful. Teams don’t seem to care if we run those short developing routes because they know we were terrible at 3rd down. On 3rd down though, man coverage can be effective when we mainly run hitches or curl routes. Our deep passing plays mainly consisted of going to the sticks and turning around or deep go routes and comebacks. DeFilippo stopped using deep over routes and posts to attack the middle of the field that actually worked well no matter what time of the year it was. And if we did run different route concepts, sometimes the offensive line wouldn’t give enough time for Cousins to throw. Here are some plays where we either use the same hitch concepts or mesh concepts on key downs. This is the type of film that teams have studied and have just known what we were going to run. Same mesh concept from week 2 vs GB and then week 14 vs Seattle.
And then we have the hitch routes/run to the sticks and turn around for 3rd down plays. Every team does this, but we did it way too often. Same games here.
Even with Stefanski’s success, our offense still had to run some of the same passing plays that DeFilippo had installed. Teams know how to beat those plays and it’s much harder to find success out of those plays. A lot of quick out routes and go routes with rub route concepts on the other side of the field. Both won’t work because teams know that the zone defense will simply stop it from gaining big yards. Here is a play we see time and time again. This one is against Miami and looks to be easily read by the defense. Plenty of teams will run similar concepts multiple times but you have to make them look different.
Stefanski has to keep utilizing the tight ends more in the passing game and have different route schemes in the playbook. We need more concepts attacking the middle of the field that has been working all year long, either if that’s quick hitting slants or longer developing post routes. Also, developing an intermediate and deep passing off of playing under center. Making the defense respect your run game and short passing game with heavy personnel and having your talented receivers on the outside go to work against man coverage. I think if we come up with simple passing plays with heavier personnel and under center our offense as a whole will be much more successful down the road. I believe Cousins could really thrive under a passing attack like this. It doesn’t need to be from shotgun for him to succeed, which is actually really nice to have.
Our main problem going forward is the passing out of our spread offense. A lot of the schemes are the same out of the spread and are just simply not working anymore. Stefanski must come up with better ways on how to get the spread offense going when we need it. There will be times in big games ahead when we need to move the ball on 3rd and long situations, and our spread offensive schemes must change, or else we won’t be able to win the big games against the best teams.
As previously stated, the Vikings to utilize the middle of the field more. We rarely have routes that develop over the middle of the field, no matter if that is playing against man coverage or playing against zone coverage. It’s been working when we do it and I’m not sure why we don’t continue to use it. In this play we should have Diggs cut towards the middle. We run this hi-low corner concept a lot and having Diggs doing a post here when the middle of the field is open (open=2 safeties, closed=1 safety) he could have a big gain here.
For our passing game under center, keep utilizing heavy personnel for play action and even simply passing from under center. Allow our receivers on the outside to get to intermediate and deep passing depth. Defenses will have to cover our shorter routes from the tight ends, running backs, or full backs and simply respect the run game. If we can consistently run and pass out of different formations in heavy personnel sets, we could have a very deadly offense. Here is an example. Play action pass to tight end Tyler Conklin who gets wide open after the defense expects the run.
As for passing out of the spread formation, that’s where I get a little more stumped as an armchair expert. There’s so many different route combinations that you can use in the spread formations that it’s hard to just pinpoint one thing and say do that. But, I would suggest more zone beaters rather than man beaters. Using more deep over routes and scissor (2 crossing routes), yankee concepts( a deep dig and post route) with shorter developing routes underneath. We have plenty of talent on the outside to not be doing better. Also, utilizing Dalvin Cook as a pass catcher. Lining him up on as a third wide receiver or a fourth wide receiver in the spread formations. He will probably create more separation than Laquon Treadwell and has much better YAC ability than Treadwell. Here is Cook in the slot against Green Bay. For some reason DeFilippo stopped using him as a third wide receiver.
The biggest one could actually be passing on 3rd down and medium to short. Statistically speaking, the Vikings are worse at 3rd down and short than 3rd down and long. DeFilippo mainly used mesh concepts and hitch routes with some mixed in double moves to throw on 3rd and short (see gifs from earlier on these). Either no one was open or our line couldn’t hold up long enough. With Stefanski, we are already better at it and are using different protection packages to hold up longer and different route schemes to get guys more open.
Overall, the Vikings offense should keep getting better and look a little different each week with Stefanski at the helm. To keep having success into next week or possibly the playoffs, the Vikings offense need to be better at 3rd down, passing out of spread formation and building a scheme around their players. Also, if we can develop a good passing game out from under center, play action or not, this offense could be insane given its talent. I really hope the Vikings offense can find a good rhythm for next week against the Bears and possibly the playoffs. Hopefully for the 2019 new year we see a Vikings playoff berth. And I wish everyone Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.