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Reponse: How the Vikings can stop Golden Tate this time around

By Arif Hasan

The Minnesota Vikings did not fare well against Golden Tate the last time they saw him. With 11 catches for 79 yards, he seemingly had a limited receiving role, but he certainly had an outsized impact on the game, capped with a walkoff touchdown in overtime featuring several missed tackles in the Vikings secondary.

The Lions’ reception leader will no doubt be featured once more, and it’s critical that Minnesota finds a way to shut him down: as Tate goes, so does the passing game. Golden Tate is the only receiver on the Lions whose receiving yards correlate above 0.50 (correlation ranges from -1 to 1, with 0 meaning no correlation) with Matthew Stafford’s statistical success as a passer in passer rating and adjusted yards per attempt.

As the primary option—Tate has more receptions or receiving yards than anyone else on the team—limiting his impact will be crucial to Minnesota’s success.

Last time we saw the Vikings match up against Golden Tate and the Lions, I recommended an approach heavy on zone principles and mentioned a few coverages based off of the run-defense friendly Cover-2 and Tampa-2 approaches.

Game plan: How the Vikings can slow down the Lions and Matt Stafford

The Vikings in that game mixed it up a fairly even amount between man and zone coverage, but when they switched to man coverage, it was almost an alert for Stafford to throw to Tate. Of the ten targets that were diagnosable—one sweep pass wasn’t and another was in prevent—seven were in man coverage.

Tate’s yards-after-catch in man coverage average 4.5 yards a reception and 1.0 in zone coverage. The overall yards-per-attempt dropped in zone coverage as well. When throwing to him in man coverage, Stafford averaged 8.5 yards an attempt, but only 3.0 in zone.

That’s not definitive proof or anything, but it does point to potential gains in biasing in favor of zone coverage. It is difficult for Minnesota to construct blitz packages with zone-heavy gameplans, and they certainly shouldn’t abandon all of their pressure packages or man coverage as a principle entirely. But if they implement zone-friendly blitzes along with their normal defensive looks, they might do better against the Lions this week.

It won’t be easy; the Lions are aware of the fact that their YAC-heavy offense can be neutralized to some degree by the better tackling angles created by zone defenses and have been implementing more zone beaters in the past few weeks. It’s one reason why Tate’s route-running scores have improved over the past few weeks in Bleacher Report’s NFL 1000 project.

Against the Jaguars, Tate ran a greater variety of routes in simple combinations designed to attack Cover 2. Below, he runs the corner route while Eric Ebron runs to the flat.

The benefit of this against Cover-2 teams is that the cornerback playing the underneath zone will be in conflict against both the receiver and the tight end, and the quarterback can choose to throw in the direction the corner breaks away from.

In this case, Stafford should have thrown it to Tate, and despite the closing safety it is a bit confusing to see him decline the option.

They’ve run a lot of simple route combinations that are pretty easy to read—slant-flat, spot, smash-divide, and so on. The first read is almost always the shorter of the two routes, so defenders should be ready to close.

Stafford and the Lions should also be vulnerable to trap coverages—the flat-seven above and a lot of their switch concepts are exploitable by defenses willing to maintain a Cover-2 shell, but with the ability to mix it up: having a corner play as one of the deep safeties with a linebacker buzzing the flat and so on.

In the play below, broken down in more detail by former Chicago Bears safety Matt Bowen at Bleacher Report, the Rams showcase trap coverage where they initially show a single-high look before rotating both the safety and cornerback back up to play a deep zone while that first safety runs to play the intermediate zone normally reserved for the corner. Colt McCoy hesitates, and as a result, gets sacked.

The Vikings implement complex coverage but do not call for these kinds of trap coverages as often as many other teams and could make use of an opportunity in order to bait Matthew Stafford into more bad decisions.

The Vikings face perhaps their most important game of the season on Thanksgiving and with a few tweaks to their defensive style could shut down their opponent’s most potent weapon. They weren’t able to do it last time, but if the coaching staff has figured out how to close down on the Lions’ favorite tactics, they’ll come out on top.

Vikings will have their hands full with Golden Tate…again

The post Reponse: How the Vikings can stop Golden Tate this time around appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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