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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Film review: Play-actions and personnel packages driving Vikings passing game

By Matthew Coller

For a team that’s been missing its quarterback for all but six quarters of the season, the Minnesota Vikings have had pretty impressive production in the passing game.

The Vikings are ninth in total passing yards, eighth in net yards per attempt and sixth in team passer rating. That’s not quite what you would have expected when starter Sam Bradford went down after Week 1.

While Case Keenum deserves credit for his aggressiveness – which is not always a trait seen in backup quarterbacks -the combination of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme and the Vikings’ offensive line that have allowed them to be successful.

Heading into the Vikings’ matchup with the Green Bay Packers, they were the NFL’s best team when throwing play-action passes, gaining 12.7 yards per attempt, according to Football Outsiders. Keenum was successful again against Green Bay. Much of the reason for play-action success is Shurmur’s use of the offensive line and their execution in both the pass and the run.

Because the Vikings’ revamped O-line has shown athleticism and mobility, opponents have to be concerned when the big men up front start moving. On the play below, for example, the entire line blocks left as if the play is going to be an outside run for Latavius Murray. Instead, Keenum fakes the handoff to Murray and flips the ball underneath to Michael Floyd.

Here is the design. Keenum can dump off to Floyd for a short pass with the possibility of big yards after catch or he can find Adam Thielen coming across the middle. If the Packers really bite hard, backup tight end David Morgan is the lone deep option.

As you can see, a throw to Thielen would have taken Brett Favre’s arm and the Packers sniffed out the deep route, but nobody tracked Floyd. A better block on Clay Matthews (no easy task!) could have sprung Floyd for a huge gain. Instead it was a successful first down play gaining five yards.

One part of the play that shouldn’t be ignored is the personnel grouping. Shurmur has been using two tight ends (12 personnel) or one tight end and a fullback (21 personnel) often this season to force opponents to bring on more linebackers and prepare to stop the run. David Morgan has been in for 25% of total plays and FB CJ Ham has played 15%. In the play above, Green Bay has four LBs on the field and No. 47 is pulled up to the line of scrimmage by the fake.

Below is another example of the Vikings using heavy personnel and play-action to rip off a good chunk of yards. Not only is Ham in the backfield with Murray, but the Vikings have two tight ends as well (22 personnel). The line not only blocks left, but right guard Joe Berger pulls, giving even more of a run look. The blitzing corner flies into the backfield looking to track down Murray from behind, but Keenum pulls the ball back and finds Kyle Rudolph open, Notice before the snap, the safety moves down to the line of scrimmage, then Rudolph finds space in between him and the single-high safety.

The play is a very similar concept to the Floyd catch. This time Morgan was the safety valve. If the corner had sniffed out the play-action, Keenum could have dropped the ball off quickly to his No. 2 tight end for a short gain.

On our third play, the Vikings take advantage of the fact that they’ve had success in the screen game. Left guard Jeremiah Sirles pulls to the right and Murray goes into the flat like it’s going to be a quick pass to the running back. But Rudolph slips underneath the line wide open for a solid gain to the goal line. Notice Berger and center Pat Elflein block left and seal off the Packers’ interior D-linemen.

Keenum sells the quick screen or pitch to Murray by taking a step to his right and keeping his eyes on his running back. Clay Matthews slams on the breaks to chase Murray instead of spotting Rudolph.

In order for the Vikings to sustain success with play-action throws and heavy sets, they must continue to be a threat in the run game. While Murray’s day wasn’t great overall, he did rip off runs of 10 and 8 yards, enough to force the Packers to think about him. Jerick McKinnon gained 20 yards on a run where the O-line entirely blocked to the left and he cut back up the middle. The Vikings currently rank 12th in rushing.

They also had a 27-yard touchdown pass on a screen in 21 personnel. Though they got a perfect draw with the Packers sending a blitz up the middle, opening up the field entirely.

On Monday, Mike Zimmer explained that the team made an effort to improve the screen game this offseason.

“It was one of the big points of emphasis we had in the offseason,” Zimmer said. ” I wanted to get better at screens because I know how difficult it is to defend. It can slow down your pass rush. It can get guys hanging on the back more and not necessarily rushing the quarterback. I think Pat’s done a great job with it but maybe more importantly is we’ve got offensive lineman that are very athletic and can get out in space. It’s easy to set up a screen and then you get out there and a big guy can’t block a little guy. These guys are athletic. They’ve been able to get in space and be able to block them. Timing of it is essential. Making sure you get the right timing of the screens. That’s one of the big emphasis the offense had this offseason.”

Success on screens starts with center Pat Elflein, who is terrific on the move and in space. So even without Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs or Sam Bradford, Pat Shurmur was able to use play-fakes, personnel groupings and his mobile O-line to succeed in the passing game.

The post Film review: Play-actions and personnel packages driving Vikings passing game appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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