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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Can Pat Shurmur and the West Coast offense save the Vikings season?

By Matthew Coller

The West Coast offense began with an injury to a starting quarterback.

Greg Cook was the next big thing in 1969. He was 6-foot-4, 220-pounds and had an arm that would make Terry Bradshaw jealous. Most quarterbacks of the day either sat for awhile before they played or looked like Driver’s Ed students on a five-lane highway in the pocket. Not Cook. He opened up the ’69 season with three straight wins. But in the fourth game, Kansas City linebacker Jim Lynch buried him on a sack and injured his throwing shoulder. While he came back and battled through the pain that year, Cook never recovered.

Bengals head coach Paul Brown and offensive coordinator Bill Walsh were forced to turn to their version of Chad Pennington. He was an accurate, yet less physically gifted Virgil Carter, a sixth-round pick out of BYU. Their plan: Control the game with high-percentage passes. By 1971, Carter had won a division title and was the league’s highest completion percentage passer and averaged an impressive 7.3 yards per attempt.

You’ve probably caught wind of what happened after that: Walsh took his offense to San Francisco and won three Super Bowls with Joe Montana.

I told you that story so I could tell you the story of how Minnesota Vikings interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can save the Vikings offense and along with it their season.

If you follow the coaching tree, Shurmur’s career can be traced back to Bill Walsh.

Here’s how it works:

Mike Holmgren was Walsh’s quarterbacks coach from 1986 to 1988 and then his offensive coordinator from ’89 to ’91. In ’92, he became the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Holmgren hired Andy Reid as an assistant and made him quarterbacks coach in 1997. Reid was hired as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, where he named Pat Shurmur his tight ends coach. Shurmur became the quarterback’s coach in 2001 and was responsible for shaping young quarterback Donovan McNabb.


It took awhile for Shurmur to get his shot at creating an offense of his own. He got his first stab at being an offensive coordinator in St. Louis, where he was given another high draft pick to shape: Sam Bradford. In Bradford’s rookie season, he finished the season with 3,512 yards and 18 touchdown passes, winning the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

Despite the former No. 1 overall pick struggling in his second year, Shurmur was hired as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. After that went the way that it goes for all Cleveland Browns head coaches, Shurmur returned to the Eagles as Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator.

Now here is where you have to play Sherlock Holmes to figure how this year’s Vikings team ended up with Norv Turner resigning.

When Chip Kelly was fired, Shurmur was the head coach for one game in Philly, and then joined Mike Zimmer’s staff in Minnesota as the tight ends coach. ESPN’s Ben Goessling said on the Purple Podcast on that Zimmer consulted current Browns head coach Hue Jackson on offensive philosophy during the offseason. He then added an over-qualified coach in Shurmur to his staff who just happens to have a very different philosophy than Turner.

While Shurmur’s style was shaped by disciples of the West Coast offense, Turner favored a vertical passing game. His bones were made as the offensive coordinator of the dominant Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s. They ran first down with Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and on third down sent star receivers like Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper deep down the field. Quarterback Troy Aikman took deep drops and sat in the pocket behind the greatest offensive line ever assembled.

Success makes it hard to change.

Turner hit bumps in the road after he left Dallas, but eventually found his way to coaching the San Diego Chargers to a top-10 offense four years in a row – one that would lead the Chargers to a 56-40 in his six seasons in San Diego.

The first two years of Turner in Minnesota included some ups and downs but the downs were enough for Zimmer to worry. Sure the Vikings won 11 games and the NFC North last year and scored the 16th most points in 2015. They also ranked 29th in total yards and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked 44 times.

A Week 14 loss last year to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football may have foreshadowed an eventual exit for Turner. Bridgewater was sacked on the final play of the game while the Vikings were in field goal position. Head Coach Mike Zimmer questioned the call publicly and Bridgewater said he wasn’t given the option of checking out of the play. Turner shot back.

“It’s a good play. There’s no reason to check out of it,” he said.

While everyone has stayed hush-hush about the actual reasons Turner stepped down from his offensive coordinator post on Wednesday, it doesn’t take Isaac Newton to add this one up. The pieces were already in place for change.

When Bridgewater suffered a season-ending injury and the Vikings acquired quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota was forced to use plays that Bradford understood from his 2015 season with Shurmur and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. The Vikings’ new quarterback picked up where he left off over the final seven games in Philly in which he had a 97.0 quarterback rating.

Coming out of the Bye Week, Bradford looked like Aikman in the ‘90s, except if Aikman hadn’t had Emmitt or the all-time great line or Michael Irvin. Bradford was pummeled by the Eagles. He was strip-sacked three times and picked off in a 21-10 loss. One would have assumed the Vikings would simply return to the concepts of the first five weeks when they went into Soldier Field to play the Chicago Bears on Monday. They didn’t, and got burned again.

The unanswered question is why Turner would want to go back to his seven-step drop offense when Shurmur’s concepts were incredibly successful. In Week 5 against the Houston Texans, Bradford had a 109.3 rating and posted his best career rating in any game in which he threw more than 20 passes. Against Houston, the Vikings’ quarterback had the ball out in 2.03 seconds and 2.37 overall in his first four starts – the league’s fastest. That number dropped to 2.57 in the Vikings’ loss to the Eagles and 2.64 vs. Chicago.

That’s how we got here. Now here’s where we’re going…

Saying the Vikings should just, “go back to short passes like they did Week 5,” is kind of like telling a NASCAR driver to just floor it. It’s not that easy, but it’s the right concept.

Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young described the basics of the West Coast on Bill Walsh: A Football Life on NFL Network.

“The short passing game replicating the efficiency and the security of a running game, that’s what changed things,” Steve Young said. “Defenses couldn’t respond. The ball was coming out so much faster than had happened in the past in the passing game that defenses took 15 or 20 years to catch up.”

It’s not clear defenses have caught up. Under Andy Reid in Kansas City, Alex Smith has gone 35-18 with a 92.8 quarterback rating. The Detroit Lions switched to a form of the West Coast offense when they named Jim Bob Cooter their offensive coordinator. Since then, Matthew Stafford has a 104.3 rating. Stafford and Smith currently rank first and fourth, respectively, in the highest percentage of yards that come after the catch.

These teams are having success by using the concept laid out by Young, but with their own new elements.

“The thing about the West Coast offense and Bill Walsh and San Francisco, it’s definitely evolved,” Donovan McNabb said on the Mackey and Judd Show on 1500ESPN. “Everybody has put their stamp on things. It’s easy to say about guys who come from that tree, ‘oh, they run the West Coast…’ with Andy [Reid] we went back to the basics with Joe Montana and Steve Young and he added his flavor to it. I think the same thing with Pat Shurmur. He’ll add his flavor from the West Coast offense, and then he’ll add a little bit of what he did with Chip Kelly as well.”

If we were to describe the West Coast offense in its most basic form, it would be this.

The No. 1 target is actually the deep post. For an offense known for its short passes and screens, the deep route is often the first read. If the downfield pass isn’t there, then the quarterback knows that he will have a short pass available.

On this play, a 36-yard touchdown on the opening drive against the Houston Texans, the Vikings have five at the line of scrimmage, but the West Coast influence is there with three possible short options and Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs going deep. With the Texans playing Cover-1, either Diggs or Thielen was going to have a one-on-one matchup with nobody over the top.


In the diagram, the tight end and receiver crossing is called a “Mesh,” where they either have a pick set up or they can run underneath zone.

Here’s an example with three receivers. Jarius Wright and Kyle Rudolph come across the middle and Bradford hits Wright just before getting taken down.

McNabb said this is where the West Coast is most advantageous for Bradford.

“When you have a quarterback like Sam [Bradford] who is not mobile, you have to find a way to get the ball out of his hands, and that’s the three-step or five-step drop,” McNabb said. “They don’t wow you with receiver talent, Diggs is coming along, Kyle Rudolph is coming along, but the offense flourishes if Sam is able to get the ball out quickly.”

It’s not that the Vikings totally deleted all these types of plays over the last two weeks, they just seemed to use them a lot less and have plays like this that had no short option for Bradford.


The other important element that Shurmur’s offense that was utilized quite a bit back in the McNabb days.

“Expect a little more of the screen game,” McNabb said. “The screen game neutralizes the blitz and neutralizes the front four.”

We’ve seen the reemergence of Cordarrelle Patterson solely based on screens. After playing just 61 total plays last year under Turner, the former first-round pick has 21 catches this year and of those, all but two have been fewer than 10 yards through the air.

On this play, the Vikings line up Patterson in the slot and sling the ball out to him as quickly as possible. Very much like a glorified run play.

The screen game is where we may see the biggest influence from Chip Kelly.

“Chip Kelly was an out-of-the-box thinker,” Shurmur said. “We went into the first meeting and the first thing he said was, ‘we’ve done it this way always is not the right answer.’ We were always, with Chip, willing to think outside the box and we stumbled on some really, really good stuff. But there are some things that have been done for a long time for the right reasons…I learned quite a bit.”

Against the Bears, the Vikings slipped in this tight end screen.

It isn’t the same exact play, but same idea.

On Thursday, Zimmer said he has been pretty happy with the Vikings’ run game over the past few weeks based on efficiency. But Minnesota averages 2.7 yards per carry and their longest run against the Bears was seven yards.

The Vikings can’t do anything to fix their struggling offensive line, but McNabb suggests one thing that Turner did not use often this season.

“I would love to see them utilize [Jerick] McKinnon or otherwise [Matt] Asiata by doing some draws,” McNabb said. “You have defensive line and linebackers just teeing off. They’re blitzing to try to stop the pass, they’re not even thinking about the run.”

Another thing Shurmur can do to improve the run game is not running on every first down. The Vikings run on first down more often than any other team in the NFL. According to ESPN’s Brian Burke, this is a not a good idea.

Burke ran estimated points on first down at every yard line. Basically the only time it’s better to run than pass on first down is at the goal line.


Read his entire article here

What else might we see that’s new? Well, remember Adrian Peterson? The Eagles often used two running back sets, mixing things up between Darren Sproles, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews. The three combined for 119 total receptions and 382 carries. Murray and Matthews were the main ball carriers and Sproles caught 55 passes out of the backfield. You could see Peterson playing the Murray role and Jerick McKinnon turning into Sproles.

Pat Shurmur replacing Norv Turner is hardly a magic wand.

The Vikings still have a catastrophically bad offensive line and that line is missing one of its better parts in left guard Alex Boone. On the day he took over as OC, Shurmur walked up to the line and said, “I believe in you.” That is the only thing he can say. Minnesota has Pro Football Focus’s worst-ranked tackle T.J. Clemmings, who was demolished by the Bears on Monday night. Zimmer praised Clemmings’ work ethic, but the reality is that I could go practice hitting golf balls for 14 hours a day and I’d never be a pro golfer. And the Vikings didn’t find a replacement at the trade deadline, which may turn out to be a regrettable decision.

Putting Adrian Peterson in the backfield with McKinnon is a nice thought. It doesn’t solve Peterson’s likely expectation that if he comes back, he will be the centerpiece of the offense. His best days were under West Coast disciple Brad Childress, but he was still the main attraction.

With all that said, to save the offense, Shurmur doesn’t have to turn the Vikings from the 31st rated offense to top 10. Since the Vikings have the best defense in the NFL, in order to be competitive he only needs to create an attack that doesn’t have four straight three-and-outs like they did against the Bears.

Who knows if it will happen, but the chances are better now that Shurmur is in charge.

The post Can Pat Shurmur and the West Coast offense save the Vikings season? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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