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Bleacher Report – Vikings

The subtle effectiveness of the Vikings’ tight ends

By Matthew Coller

If you drafted Kyle Rudolph on your fantasy team because you were expecting him to put up Zach Ertz-like numbers under offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, you are probably disappointed so far.

There are currently 11 tight ends with more receiving yards and Ertz has 21 more receptions than Rudolph. But if you aren’t focused on fantasy, it’s apparent that DeFilippo’s usage of the Minnesota Vikings’ tight ends has been one of the driving forces of success on offense. That was especially clear in the Vikings’ 27-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Before we look at some of the plays in which the tight ends’ impact can only be seen with a closer look, it’s worth pointing out that Rudolph’s efficiency numbers have never been better than in the first six games of this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kirk Cousins is 27-for-30 with 8.6 yards per attempt and has a 125.8 quarterback rating when targeting Rudolph. He has a catch of at least 15 yards in every game except Week 1, in which his lone catch was a touchdown, and on third down he has caught eight passes on nine targets and gained six first downs. Rudolph is 5-for-5 on third or fourth down with fewer than three yards to go.

The Pro Bowl tight end has also cleverly been used as a blocker. In the past he has been criticized for his run blocking, but the way in which DeFilippo has used him in mismatches has helped the Vikings spring key plays.

One common theme in Rudolph’s usage has been blocking on wide receiver screens. On Sunday he helped open a hole for Adam Thielen, who gained nine yards on first-and-15. Rudolph is matched up against a defensive back and takes care of business by flooring the smaller player.

Later in the game DeFilippo dialed up another clever blocking scheme using Rudolph, this time on a read option play for Cousins.

The right side of the Vikings’ offensive line double teams the defensive tackle and leaves the defensive end. When the D-end draws in, Cousins simply runs right past him. But the play doesn’t work if Rudolph can’t handle safety Antoine Bethea.

The Vikings’ tight end again uses his size advantage on the smaller defensive back and drives him into the end zone, allowing the quarterback to walk in for an easy seven.

On the receiving side, Rudolph has been well known as a red zone threat, producing 16 touchdowns over the past two seasons. On Sunday, DeFilippo used Rudolph as a red zone decoy on a Thielen touchdown.

The Cardinals rush four and have seven defenders in coverage. The linebackers and nickel corner play zone underneath, so the nickel does not carry Rudolph, leaving the safety in a bind when both Rudolph and Thielen run vertical routes. He can either help the linebacker with Thielen or cover Rudolph — either way is advantageous for the Vikings. (Also notice also that both outside receivers run quick hitches, leaving more space for Rudolph to operate).

So even though Rudolph did not end up with a touchdown catch, his role on this play was vital.

Tyler Conklin’s role was important as well. The No. 3 tight end is lined up at the top of the screen. Covering him is a defensive back, which indicates the Cards are going to play zone coverage. The play wouldn’t be as effective if the nickel was playing man coverage and following the Vikings’ starting tight end.

Rudolph ended the day with four catches for 37 yards — sorry fantasy owners –but one of the catches was a key third-down grab with under one minute remaining in the first half that ultimately led to a field goal.

Meanwhile No. 2 tight end David Morgan had a big impact as a blocker on Sunday.

Here are two explosive runs by Latavius Murray, both broken open in part by strong Morgan blocks:

On the first run, the Vikings are in a bunch formation with two tight ends and strong-blocking receiver Laquon Treadwell. Morgan hits the linebacker and drives him back, opening up a huge gap. On the second play, the Vikings’ backup tight end is asked to match up with the defensive end. He gets a little help from tackle Brian O’Neil, who then quickly works out to the cornerback and drives him all the way to the sideline as Murray is scampering for a huge gain. Morgan played 24 run snaps on Sunday, his highest total of the year.

With an offensive line that has given up a great deal of pressure on the quarterback, Morgan has also played a helpful role in protection, allowing just one pressure (per PFF) on 31 pass blocking snaps.

What we come away with is: DeFilippo might not be getting his tight ends the same types of numbers as Ertz had in Philadelphia or Gary Barnidge in Cleveland, but he’s using tight ends as chess pieces to set up other playmakers. And when Rudolph gets his number called, good things have happened.

The post The subtle effectiveness of the Vikings’ tight ends appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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