Two weeks ago the Minnesota Vikings fired their offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and having won their last two games by twenty-four and eighteen points I thought I would take a look at their offence against the Detroit Lion in this week’s amateur adventure in film.
The first thing that strikes me as I sit here to recount the game is a warning that whilst there has been a turnaround in the team’s results, meaning the Vikings have a chance of making the playoffs with a win this week, they did not look that great on offence in this game. This might be somewhat worrying considering how lowly the Lions defence rates by DVOA and the comeback the Vikings had to make in the first half.
Now, I’m not going to hold the opening three and out drive against the Vikings as they started the game pinned against their own goal line thanks to a great punt/coverage. However, there were several other drives that also stalled early or broke down through a commitment to the running game that was not necessarily justified by the result. The Vikings only managed to amass one hundred yards on twenty-eight carries but if you look behind the numbers things look a little better as Dalvin Cook did manage to maintain a 4.5 yard per carry average and Latavius Murray was stuffed on a number of runs at the end of the game when the Vikings were running out the clock and did break an eleven-yard run earlier in the game.
The most effective groupings for the Vikings seemed to be a mix or 11 and 12 personnel. Their most effective receiver in this game was actually their move tight-end Kyle Rudolph who caught all nine balls that were thrown to him as well as scoring two touchdowns. Apart from moving round the formation Rudolph also was a key part in the Vikings success in the play action game as he repeatedly blocked initially before leaking out onto a route and catching the ball. This success with the play action pass is one of the benefits in the Vikings’ renewed commitment to the run and it helps that apart from having a versatile tight end in Rudolph who they moved around the formation. They were also comfortable with tight-end David Morgan’s blocking and it has to be said that both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are good blockers for receivers and would often be brought close to the formation for run or play-action run looks.
This was actually quite a quiet game for Diggs catching the ball who on his day can compete with any receiver in the league, but it was his fellow receiver Adam Thielen who had the big day in the receiving group with eighty yards. You can understand why with one of the better receiving duos in the league that DeFilippo could have got caught up in the passing the game, particularly given the way the league is trending. However, given the defence the Vikings possess you can see why Mike Zimmer wanted to run the ball more and it seems to help Kirk Cousins manage the game better. I’m still not sure how good a quarterback Cousins is as at times he looks really good and then he will have some bad turnovers. It feels like for these last two games that less is more for Cousins, and being able to build from the run and play-action game that the Vikings have a better foundation for success. This could be because their offensive line struggles at times, although interestingly they rank much better in the passing game (seventh) than run blocking (twenty-second) when looking at the Football Outsiders offensive line stats. However, when you have a defence who is as good as Minnesota’s, particularly in recent weeks, then a more conservative approach can help both sides of the ball function in balance and I suspect it is a combination of this and asking Kirk Cousins to do slightly less that has turned round results in recent weeks.
Whether this is enough to defeat the Bears and see the Vikings succeed in the playoffs, only time will tell but I could certainly see the Bears defence being good enough to cause the Vikings problems today and success through limiting a quarterback is not why you pay a quarterback twenty million dollars a year, even if that was the cost of getting your man in free-agency.