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Bleacher Report – Vikings

The Vikings’ next offensive coordinator can learn plenty from Pat Shurmur’s player usage

By Matthew Coller

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told the Twin Cities media Thursday that the team expects to hire an offensive coordinator in the coming weeks after the Super Bowl.

Some of the candidates that have been reported to be in the mix include Vikings QB coach Kevin Stefanski, former Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell, Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo and Texans QB coach Sean Ryan.

It’s nearly impossible to tell from the outside whether an OC will be a good fit. Pat Shurmur proves to us that coaches can be hugely impacted by roster quality and they can change/improve.

What we can look at is what worked this year. On their way to ranking 10th in the NFL in scoring, players raved about Shurmur’s ability to use them to their strengths.

So let’s have a look at the things the next offensive coordinator will have to carry over from each position group:

The quarterback

Shurmur adapted on the fly to Case Keenum following a knee injury in Week 1 that essentially ended Sam Bradford’s season. You know the results. Keenum finished with the ninth best quarterback rating in the NFL. One way Shurmur guided Keenum to success was setting him up with situations where receivers could run after catch.

For example, underneath and flat routes made up 22% of his throws, according to Pro Football Focus. On those throws, he had a quarterback rating around 110. Only five quarterbacks averaged fewer air yards per completion than Keenum.

Another impressive stat: The Vikings’ top receivers are masterful and comeback routes. Those made up 16% of throws, resulting in a 109 rating. Shurmur clearly played to the throws his QB could make and the routes his receivers could run most successfully.

Graphic via Pro Football Focus

Keenum also set a career high in rating inside the red zone. He threw 16 touchdowns, zero interceptions and completed 62.0% of his passes.

Now, the next OC may or may not have Keenum as his quarterback. According to Spielman, the OC will play a role in deciding who is under center.

“He’ll have a major part of the decision-making process, he’ll be heavily involved in that,” Spielman said.

That will mean finding the best QB to fit whatever type of offense the Vikings will have in 2018. No matter who that QB is, the OC will have to find which concepts best play to the strengths, whether it’s throwing down the field, running play-action, using screens etc.

The receivers

Of all the ways Shurmur impressed with his usage of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, the most impressive was adapting Thielen to a slot receiver more often. According to PFF, he lined up in the slot on near half of his snaps, a huge jump from 2016. In the slot, Thielen is a nightmare. He’s either bringing shutdown corners out of their element or he’s matching up with a smaller slot corner.

The comeback routes were particularly lethal against man and cover-3 coverage with a single-high safety. It seemed every time teams brought their safety up to the line of scrimmage, the Vikings went to work with their two technicians.

Jarius Wright probably deserved more playing time, but his role was still well carved out. He caught 18 passes, 12 of which turned out to be first downs. Wright is a clever player who finds open space against zone defense and has good hands. He became a go-to on third downs.

The only criticism of Shurmur’s receiver usage was Laquon Treadwell’s snap count. Keenum had very little success throwing his way and his blocking wasn’t enough to justify over 40% of snaps.

The running game

Another impressive adaptation by Shurmur came when Dalvin Cook went down with an ACL tear. With Cook as the No. 1 back, the Vikings focus around an outside zone scheme, which worked to Cook’s incredible vision and explosiveness. When he went down, Shurmur loaded up personnel for Murray to give more power running looks. He also used Jerick McKinnon as the receiving-first back that he should be. McKinnon ranked as the NFL’s seventh best receiving back by PFF standards.

McKinnon will likely be gone next year, but the Vikings could find a similar role player. What’s most important is they stick with different running schemes for Cook and Murray. In only four games, the Vikings’ 2017 second-round pick emerged as one of the most talented running backs in the NFL and Murray showed to be a much better fit when he could make one cut and explode.

The tight ends

There was no better example of Shurmur’s maximization of players’ skillsets than at tight end. Kyle Rudolph improved his efficiency, catching 70.2 percent of passes in his direction and turned 24 third down targets into 12 first downs. He also caught eight touchdowns, seven of which came in the red zone. Keenum posted a 107.4 rating when throwing to Rudolph.

Where opponents were most surprised was his usage on screen passes. He caught 14 passes behind the line of scrimmage, averaging 7.4 yards per attempt on those throws.

David Morgan’s role was impressively carved out by the former Vikings OC. Down the stretch, the 2016 fifth-round pick played near 50 percent of total snaps, forcing teams to bring in an extra linebacker out of respect for the run. They used play-action on 25% of plays and managed the seventh best yards per attempt on play-action throws. That was often due to using two tight end sets successfully. Morgan also ranked as the No. 2 run blocker among tight ends in the NFL.

The next OC will have to recognize the value of Minnesota’s No. 2 tight end. He certainly isn’t the next Jimmy Graham, but he gives the Vikings a personnel advantage that is difficult to stop for opposing defenses.

The offensive line

A former offensive lineman, Shurmur was at his best designing blocking schemes for the highly intelligent and athletic offensive line. He got them on the move in the short passing and screen game and benefited from their ability to get to the second level in the running game. Shurmur understood that he could use a large number of schemes within a single game, which allowed for many different looks, especially on play-action throws.

It’s likely the Vikings will draft another offensive lineman who fits the mold of the four returning (assuming Joe Berger retires). The next OC should be as creative as possible up front.

The bottom line

Whoever the Vikings’ future offensive coordinator is, that person will take over an impressive supporting cast for Quarterback X. He will have star playmakers, intelligent players and quality linemen. His job will be to use all the colors on the pallet to paint another strong offensive season for the Vikings.

The post The Vikings’ next offensive coordinator can learn plenty from Pat Shurmur’s player usage appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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