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Bleacher Report – Vikings

What the Vikings’ passing game can carry over from win over Bucs

By Matthew Coller

In the Minnesota Vikings’ two wins, they threw for 715 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. Some of those numbers came via good fortune, but there are aspects of the Vikings’ passing attack that should be sustainable from week to week no matter who is under center.

Those elements showed up on the All-22 coaches film from the Vikings’ 34-17 win over Tampa Bay. Let’s have a look…

Successful underneath routes/Cook at WR

Since quarterback Case Keenum hit on throws of 45, 47 and 59, it was easy to overlook some of the shorter plays that bit off good chunks of yards. But twice in the first half against the Bucs, the Vikings had successful passes on underneath routes. One was a 9-yard completion to Stefon Diggs and the other (below) was a 7-yard pass to Dalvin Cook.

Horizontal routes are a staple of the West Coast offense. On this play, there’s just one East-West route accompanied by four vertical routes. Three of the routes are directed toward the quarterback’s left while Cook is headed in the opposite direction underneath. The goal is to back off the linebackers in zone coverage and create room for Cook.

Tampa’s linebacker Lavonte David follows Kyle Rudolph (bottom TE) at first, then has to slam on the breaks to react to Cook coming across the middle. He doesn’t get there in time and Cook has running room. If the Vikings’ running back didn’t slip, he might have picked up even more on the play.

Improved offensive line play forces opponents to respect the vertical routes and helps create room underneath.

Cook’s ability to line up as a wide receiver gives an element to the passing game that wasn’t used that often with Jerick McKinnon last year. It’s an opportunity to get him the ball in space where he is extremely dangerous.

Play-action, play-action, play-action

Both Keenum’s 17-yard completion to Diggs and his 47-yard connection with his No. 1A receiver came off play-action.

The Vikings were effective using play-action last year – and that’s without a top-notch running back or competent offensive line. Through three games, they have had a great deal of success with play-action throws.

This is the 17-yard connection to Diggs. The offensive line blocks as if it’s a run play with right guard Joe Berger and tight end Kyle Rudolph pulling. But the blocking scheme instead creates a huge throwing lane for Keenum – who is listed at 6-foot-1.

The play-action draws in the linebacker, which opened up the middle of the field. Keenum didn’t need the middle though because Diggs spun his defender around like a top and was wide open. The Vikings’ quarterback wouldn’t have had as clear a look at Diggs if not for Cook stepping up to hit Gerald McCoy, who came free in the middle.

Cook is the key to the equation. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that he’s noticed the difference in how opponents are focusing on his dynamic running back.

“I think they’re respecting him a lot,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know how much they’re changing their coverages or pressure packages and things like that based on that. But, I have a pretty good idea they’re respecting the run with him.”

The fact that Cook can pass protect also gives offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur confidence to call for a play-action pass and not worry that his quarterback will end up on the turf.

2TE or 1TE/2RB sets

When Sam Bradford threw the ball with two tight ends in the game in 2016, he averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, his best of any set. Shurmur has mixed in tight ends David Morgan and fullback CJ Ham. The Vikings’ No. 2 tight end has played 27% of snaps and Ham 18%. And not all of those plays have been runs. For example, this was the formation prior to Keenum’s 45-yard completion to Adam Thielen.

The long throw came following two solid runs by Cook. Seemingly expecting run, the Bucs’ safety came down at the snap, leaving one deep safety in the middle and Thielen 1-on-1 deep. Keenum took advantage.

The 2TE or 2RB sets with Ham in the game create a mismatch for the Vikings. If opponents play their safeties back to guard against deep balls to Thielen and Diggs, the Vikings will have numbers up front for Cook and the running game. If they bring safeties up, Keenum and Bradford can launch deep passes to their skilled receivers.

Be creative at the goal line

Last season, the Vikings ranked 23rd in touchdowns scored inside the 10 yard line, punching the ball in just 19 times on 95 plays. When Sam Bradford was given an opportunity to throw, the Vikings scored on 10-of-33 plays, but when they ran, they scored only nine times on 45 attempts.

Poor offensive line play certainly hurt their chances to slam into the end zone last year. So far, two of the four run attempts inside the 10 have ended up as touchdowns.

Some creativity at the goal line helped the Vikings score against Tampa Bay. They lined up three receivers on one side and had Keenum roll to his right. Diggs and Thielen crossed and Jarius Wright slipped underneath for the score.

The Vikings were creative at times on the goal line last year, but they also went big people vs. big people too often and were stuffed by opponents. Better O-line play and more skill gives them an opportunity to be unpredictable inside the 10.

Bottom line:

While the Vikings caught a break by playing a depleted Bucs team, there are facets of their offense that will be difficult for any defense to stop as long as the offensive line holds up. It appears now that the success of the offense will be build off Dalvin Cook’s dynamic skill set. Every week won’t be a 300-yard explosion, but the pieces are in place for the Vikings to have a dangerous offensive attack.

The post What the Vikings’ passing game can carry over from win over Bucs appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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