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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Lessons the Vikings can learn from the Falcons’ offense

By Matthew Coller

Every team in the NFL will spend its offseason asking: How can we emulate the Atlanta Falcons?

In a way, that’s like asking: How can we be the Golden State Warriors? Sure, you can try to move the basketball around more and you can try to chuck three-pointers from way downtown (*NBA Jam voice*), but if you have the Brooklyn Nets’ roster instead of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, you’ll probably struggle to succeed.

In order to copycat the Falcons, the Vikings would need an elite quarterback, two competent-to-good tackles, the top center in the NFL and the top deep-threat receiver in the NFL to go along with an elite duel-threat running back .

Minnesota won’t be coming anywhere close to having the embarrassment of riches the Falcons possess by next season, but there are some concepts Atlanta uses that the Vikings could learn from.


One of the greatest fallacies in sports is that a good run game sets up the pass game. Here is the best proof you’ll ever run across: The Vikings were the third best team in Yards Per Pass Play on play-action according to Football Outsiders, behind only Washington and Atlanta and just ahead of New England.

When Sam Bradford and the Vikings’ offense ran play-action plays, they gained an outstanding 9.6 YPA. On plays that did not include play-action, the Vikings’ offense gained just 5.9 Yards Per Pass Play.

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Vikings used one of Atlanta’s favorite play-action blocking schemes which uses the tight end to sell a zone run. Tight end Kyle Rudolph pulls to the right to pick up the defensive end as if the run is going left. Instead Bradford pulls the ball away and has Stefon Diggs open downfield because the play-action froze No. 37 and No. 50.

Now here is an example of the Falcons doing the same thing.

You will notice the 49ers’ linebackers are confused as the tight end comes across to block, leaving the corner with no help underneath.

The difference between the Vikings and Falcons on play-action plays is how often each team used them. While the Falcons were No. 1 in the NFL, with play-action on 26% of their pass plays, the Vikings ranked 13th, only going to play-action 18% of the time. Over 600 throws, that’s a difference of about 50 play-action throws. Considering the gap in success between play-action and non play-action plays, the Vikings could increase their usage next season significantly.

Passing out of three tight-end sets

Of Sam Bradford’s 552 throws, only 11 came with three tight ends in the game. On those throws, Bradford averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, threw 38 times with three tight ends for 13.5 Yards Per Attempt and posted a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating.

Part of the reason for Atlanta’s success in these sets was that they were used in typical running situations. Here, in a game against the Tampa Bay Bucs (if you couldn’t tell because of the Color Rush), the Falcons only send two potential receiving options out, but the combination of the personnel package and play-action sells the Bucs’ defense on a run, leaving the deep safeties basically alone on the Falcons’ two receivers.

This concept wasn’t completely lost on the Vikings as Bradford had his highest Yards Per Attempt when they were in two tight end sets.

Overloading zone defenses

In 2016, blitzing Bradford wasn’t a very good idea. His completion percentage was nearly identical when blitzed and he managed a higher Yards Per Attempt (7.7 vs. 7.0) and quarterback rating (100.5 vs. 98.3) with an extra rusher. But teams had success in zone coverage, especially on third downs, keeping Bradford in check.

Ryan demolished teams when rushing four to the tune of a 115.5 rating and 9.3 Yards Per Attempt. Part of the explanation for the difference is Atlanta’s scene often aims to to put more receiving options than defenders on one side against a zone.

This play against Seattle demonstrates the idea. Four receiving options end up on the left side of the field where the Seahawks have a corner, safety and linebacker. The slot receiver coming over the middle draws in the linebacker and the wide receiver at the bottom of the screen pulls his safety away with a five-yard out, leaving the safety to cover both a receiver and the running back at the same time. Whichever one he picks, Ryan goes to the other.

The Vikings’ offense seemed to use running backs as a safety valve for Bradford, while Atlanta’s running backs reeked havoc on defenses, whether it was catching the ball or drawing opponents into tough spots.

Keep throwing deep

It should come as no shock that Tom Brady and Matt Ryan are two of the best three deep passers in the NFL according to Football Reference, but Sam Bradford wasn’t that far behind in quarterback rating on plays described by official NFL play-by-play as deep balls, ranking seventh in the NFL with a 110.8 rating.

But Bradford was 23rd in deep passes attempted. Once again, the offensive line hindered the Vikings’ ability to throw the ball downfield, but the lesson here is this: You don’t need Julio Jones to have success throwing deep. Both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs proved they have the ability to get open and make plays when going downfield.

Basically, the Vikings used some of the same things the Falcons did this year, but could have used them more and did not have the talent to execute them. There still needs to be a more concerted effort to get playmakers like Jerick McKinnon in space and to solve the Bradford third down riddle.

The post Lessons the Vikings can learn from the Falcons’ offense appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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