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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Offensive issues put DeFilippo in the spotlight

By Matthew Coller

EAGAN, Minn. — Pat Shurmur is not an easy act to follow.

The West Coast Offense guru, who was a long-tenured part of Andy Reid’s coaching staff in the early 2000s and offensive coordinator of the No. 2 offense in the NFL in Philadelphia in 2013, put together a masterpiece as Minnesota Vikings OC in 2017.

Not only did the Vikings go 13-3 and win a playoff game on the back of a miracle touchdown pass, they also finished 10th in points scored, eighth in scoring drive percentage, fourth in team quarterback rating, 11th in yards per pass attempt and seventh in total rushing yards despite turning to journeyman quarterback Case Keenum following a Week 1 injury to Sam Bradford and missing dynamic running back Dalvin Cook for the majority of the season due to an ACL tear.

Behind Shurmur’s success was a bond with Vikings players that they came to appreciate. It can be summed up by a Shurmur philosophy: “It’s the players, not the plays.” He worked democratically with the offense, getting feedback on his plans.

“He’s a guy where, if you don’t like something, just tell him,” receiver Stefon Diggs said last season. “Not just, ‘I don’t like this or that,’ but tell him why you don’t like it. If it’s not something that seems fit for everybody, that we aren’t going to do it. You want everybody to be comfortable because it won’t work if we’re on a different page. The open lines of communication keeps everyone on the same page, no surprises out there.”

Getting everyone on the same page has been a greater challenge this year under new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

Addressing some of the team’s issues on offense this week, head coach Mike Zimmer indicated that a strength of last year’s offense has now become a weakness.

“I think most of the time it has been some time of miscommunication that’s happened so it’s just getting guys on the same page,” Zimmer said. “I’m not disappointed in Kirk [Cousins] whatsoever. Miscommunication happens and that usually leads to bad things. We just have to clean up some of those details and make sure everybody was on the right page.”

Communication was supposed to be a strong point.

On a conference call after his hiring, DeFilippo told a story about a meeting with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles in which the two worked together to formulate a new approach following Carson Wentz’s season-ending knee injury.

“I sat him down and made him list me with our coaching staff, ‘What are your best concepts? What do you see yourself do well?’” DeFilippo said. “Because I’m not myself, Frank Reich, Doug Pederson, we’re not the ones out there throwing it. He is. So we sat down and spent time with Nick formulating game plans on what he felt comfortable doing. For me, that’s coaching. Why would you ask a player to do something that he’s not comfortable with?”

When he was added to the Zimmer’s staff, DeFilippo appeared to be a big score for the Vikings. Post Super Bowl, he was tagged as the next Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan type who elevates their team’s offense as an OC and then quickly becomes a first-time head coach. Minnesota was the perfect place to act as a proving ground, coming to a club that had largely everyone still in place from the previous year except for Keenum, who was replaced by an $84 million starting quarterback.

But things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. By no means is the Vikings’ offense bad, but it simply isn’t as good as last season in key areas. They sit 15th in points, 24th in scoring drive percentage, 10th in team quarterback rating, 20th in yards per pass attempt and 31st in rushing yards.

Stats via Pro-Football Reference, DVOA via Football Outsiders

As an explanation for why the team can’t get on the same page consistently, the Vikings’ head coach pointed at the “volume” of plays the Vikings have used.

“[It’s] too much,” Zimmer said Monday. “Let’s just play football. You run a really good out route, you run the out route. He runs a good curl, you run the curl. You know what I mean? So, maybe we just need to focus a little bit on not trying to trick the other team quite so much.”

No problem in the NFL can be attributed to one person and the Vikings’ case is no different. Cousins has been under pressure on 40.4 percent of drop backs, third in the NFL. Cook has been out for a large portion of the season. The team struggled to find a No. 3 receiver.

But some of the pressures and turnovers can be attributed to players not being put in the best position. Take for example last Sunday night’s 25-20 loss to the Bears in which superstar pass rusher Khalil Mack was routinely left alone on the edge against Riley Reiff on a pass rush and set up up one-on-one Kyle Rudolph on a run play that resulted in a fumble. The Vikings rarely used bootleg or play-action rollouts to keep Mack at bay.

DeFilippo’s offense has not helped the O-line reduce pressures by using the screen game to running backs. Last season the Vikings thrived off the screen passes, giving Keenum easy throws that often resulted in huge pickups. ESPN’s Courtney Cronin reported via ESPN Stats and Info that the Vikings have gained just 15 yards with running back screens this year.

“We haven’t been very good at it,” Zimmer said. “I don’t want to go into details why but it’s been a concern, yes. They are a great screen team, but we have not been very good at screens and that would help us.”

It doesn’t help DeFilippo’s cause that, in New York, Shurmur has found his way into 7.8 yards per pass attempt despite an aging quarterback and abysmal offensive line. The Giants rank 11 spots ahead of the Vikings in that category and only three spots behind in quarterback rating. Running back Saquon Barkley has 64 receptions at 8.3 yards per catch.

All the Vikings’ RBs have added up to 47 catches and both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are averaging the lowest yards per catch totals of their careers. Currently the Vikings rank 23rd in pass plays over 20 yards.

The Vikings’ running game has also been an concern for Zimmer.

Following the loss to the Bears, Zimmer showed frustration with how quickly the playcaller abandoned the run.

“I think we need to be more efficient in running the football,” Zimmer said. “I do think that there’s times that we need to stick with it a little bit more, but I understand. It gets frustrating, you’re trying to run the ball and you get a minus one, then you tend to go to something where you can get some yards. That leads to third downs usually, and you try it again and you get two yards. It’s like they used to say, could be one, one, one, then 15 [yards]. But you got to keep at it.”

Cook gained just 12 yards rushing on nine carries against the Bears. Zimmer said he would have liked to have seen his offense give Chicago some different looks.

“I think really at the end of the day you have to be able to change up where you’re not just going forward, you got to go to the perimeter some,” he said.

On Wednesday, Cousins wasn’t ready to blame the team’s lack of a run game on their overall lack of firepower.

“There have also been games where we had a very good offensive day and it’s not like we had an unbelievable run game, so I don’t really look at it as that’s the cure, but if we’re running the ball effectively, that certainly helps,” Cousins said.

The Vikings’ quarterback was also not willing to back Zimmer on miscommunications issues or the volume of plays, but he did say there are things the Vikings can take away from the poor performance against the Bears.

“You need to learn from [failures], you need to talk about them, be coached, hear your coaches’ thoughts and talk to your teammates about it, take ownership for it and then move on with that gained experience,” Cousins said. “That’s the way it is with every game and every setback or failure you have and this past week is no different. I’d like to think I’ll be a better quarterback this Sunday and the rest of the season.”

DeFilippo’s offense will have plenty of opportunities to get rolling down the stretch.

Aside from the Bears in Week 17, the Vikings match up against teams that are so-so at best against the pass against the pass. Green Bay ranks 19th in opposing quarterback rating while New England is 10th, Seattle 14th, Miami 12th and Detroit 31st.

But improvement has to start Sunday night.

A win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night could quiet any noise around the OC’s performance and put Minnesota in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs. Losing Sunday night’s game would place the Vikings right in the middle of a bunch of desperate teams jockeying for position, including the Packers. A loss would also turn the heat up on the offensive coordinator.

The post Offensive issues put DeFilippo in the spotlight appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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