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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Did Sunday’s win over Packers lay out a blueprint for Vikings offensive success?

By Matthew Coller

Heading into last Sunday night’s matchup against the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings’ offense had been sputtering.

The previous week against Chicago, the Vikings were shut out in the first half, struggling to create any type of run attack or protect quarterback Kirk Cousins. Against Green Bay, the offense bounced back to the tune of 416 yards in a 24-17 win.

What worked for the Vikings against the Packers that they can carry over the final five weeks of the season? Let’s have a look…

Kyle Rudolph is open

Leading up the the Vikings’ Sunday night victory at US Bank Stadium, they had gotten away from using tight end Kyle Rudolph in their short passing game. Over the previous four weeks, he had only been targeted 15 times for nine catches. In Chicago, Rudolph made just two grabs for 13 yards. He also hasn’t caught a touchdown pass since Week 2.

Against the Packers things opened up for the Vikings’ veteran tight end. Rudolph caught seven passes on seven targets for 63 yards and three first downs.

The two plays below show how the Vikings should be using Rudolph going forward. On the first clip, he does what he’s done well for a very long time: Find space in the opponent’s zone coverage. Rudolph comes off the line of scrimmage uncontested and sits down in an area in front of the linebacker and to the right of the defensive tackle, who has dropped back into coverage. Cousins easily hits Rudolph for 11 yards and a first down.

On the second clip, Rudolph and Stefon Diggs are lined up on the same side on a key third down play. Rudolph runs a flat route underneath Diggs’ corner route. The star receiver draws so much attention from Green Bay’s zone coverage that Rudolph is open with enough room to get past the sticks for a first down.

Opponents are going to put so much attention on Adam Thielen and Diggs going deep that underneath routes to Rudolph should be available for the Vikings to move the chains.

Notice that Rudolph is lined up as a slot receiver on both plays. This season he’s lined up in the slot 241 times and in a traditional tight end position on 351 plays. His alignment gives the Vikings coverage indicators that tell Cousins where he might have opportunities to find his tight end or hit on bigger plays to Thielen/Diggs.

Another bonus to using Rudolph more — especially on first-and-10 — is that he catches everything. Cousins has an 82.7 percent completion percentage when targeting Rudolph and averages 8.2 yards per play when he throws in the tight end’s direction. Gains between 6-8 yards on first down are basically like successful running plays that set up second or third-and-short.

Dalvin Cook everywhere

Since the spring, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has talked about getting Dalvin Cook the ball “in space.” A hamstring injury slowed that process and then against the Bears the Vikings found very few ways to get him the ball. Cook ended the loss in Chicago with 12 yards rushing and minus-3 yards receiving. DeFilippo made good on that against Green Bay, hitting Cook for a 26-yard touchdown on a swing/screen, in which Pat Elflein cleared the way in the second level.

But that wasn’t the only way the Vikings got Cook the ball. Early in the game, they used him on a jet sweep, which head coach Mike Zimmer twice said he was impressed by. In the first clip, Cook lines up as a slot receiver with Diggs in the backfield. He goes in motion and immediately gets the ball from Cousins, gaining seven yards on the rush. Notice tackle Brian O’Neill quickly getting out in front of Cook on the play.

Using jet sweep action is remarkably effective in the run game. Now the Vikings can use the same play and fake the jet sweep, drawing the linebackers in one direction (see No. 50 in white).

There is no trickery in the second clip above. It’s simply a swing pass to Cook — a play likely based on the middle linebacker’s assignment. When Cousins sees No. 50 drop back into zone coverage, he knows Cook will not have man-to-man coverage on the outside, thus giving him space to work with. On both plays, Cook proves that he’s not an easy runner to take down as he breaks multiple tackles. With Cook, even so-so or bad plays can turn out to be great plays, meaning the Vikings should do everything they can to get him the ball.

Kirk Cousins rollouts

The Vikings’ franchise quarterback is mobile. He can throw on the move and run effectively. In fact, Zimmer talked to him before the Packers’ game about taking off more often.

“I talked to him two or three times last week about just some of the things that I felt like would help us offensively,” Zimmer said. “When it opens up like that, run. If you have a quarterback, basically what I told him, ‘If you have a quarterback that’s not going to run, the defenses are going to play extra coverage, they’re not going to worry about that.’ You’re playing a guy like [Aaron] Rodgers, you have to worry about it. You have to put an extra guy on him sometimes. I just think that adds to everything that we did last night.”

His mobility also includes the ability to make strong, accurate throws when rolling out of the pocket. It was something Washington used effectively during his time there and that Zimmer pointed out in the Vikings’ press conference to introduce Cousins way back in March.

Against the Packers, Cousins was used in rollout situations several times and showed some of his ability to survey the field and how effective bootlegs can be in protecting the quarterback.

In these two clips, Cousins has all sorts of room to keep his eyes downfield and wait for the play to fully develop. In the first, he finds Kyle Rudolph for a 6-yard gain rather than making a risky throw across the field to Diggs. The outside linebacker begins to rush, but has to back out and chase Rudolph, giving Cousins all day to make an easy throw.

On the second clip, Thielen’s 14-yard touchdown catch, Cousins has several options. He probably would have ended up with a touchdown if he dropped the ball off to Diggs, who ran a crossing pattern from the left side of the formation all the way across the field to where Cousins was in the open field. Notice Diggs runs behind the linebacker, whose eyes remain on Cousins, who could have also taken off on a run of he chose.

Instead he drew the defense away from Thielen and dropped it back against the grain, giving him a lane to run in for the touchdown.

These plays are occasionally blown up by defensive ends who read them quickly, but that could give the Vikings even more chances to play off of the rollout look.

The simple things

Last week, Zimmer mentioned the “volume” of plays and trying to “trick the other team” as issues with the offense. In two big spots, the Vikings went to very basic, long-used route combinations and simply executed for first downs.

On third-and-10, they went to a mesh concept, which is simple two crossing routes that create a natural pick and leave one of the receivers open.

Mesh concept

Rudolph is lined up in the slot and gets a free release, while Thielen is tight to the quarterback’s left. The crossing routes pick the corner following Thielen man-to-man and give him enough separation to catch the ball and create a first down. The routes on the quarterback’s right are two deep digs, which clear out the entire side of the field.

Nothing tricky about it. You would have seen plays just like this in the 1980s with the San Francisco 49ers and every year since by every team in the NFL.

Same goes for slant-flat combo.

Slant/flat

On third-and-6 with an opportunity to end the game, DeFilippo dialed up a Day 1 type play that every high school in the nation is running.

Diggs adds a little juke to his route, but runs a quick slant while Rudolph runs a flat route. In man coverage, the two Packers defenders end up running into each other and the safety is playing so deep that there is no one to jump the route and Diggs gets the game-ending first down.

Takeaways

The Vikings have enough talent to be one of the best offenses in the NFL. They are certainly hindered at times by their offensive line, but using other weapons like Rudolph and Cook to their strengths while also finding ways to keep Cousins away from the rush should give the Vikings a chance to keep up with some of the strong offenses — a la New England and Seattle — that they will face down the stretch.

The post Did Sunday’s win over Packers lay out a blueprint for Vikings offensive success? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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