The Vikings hired their new offensive coordinator, Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. Daniel House watched all of the tape and provides a few key differences fans will notice next year.
Updated: February 11, 2018, 2:45 p.m.
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
Sometimes all you need to do is “go get your guys.”
Last week, head coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman helped provide validity to this statement.
This week, the Vikings managed to hire one of the hottest offensive coordinator candidates in the league. John DeFilippo, the 39-year-old Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach was officially hired by the Vikings on Friday. The young offensive coach was praised extensively this season for his ability to gameplan in the red zone, while developing quarterbacks. He took Carson Wentz to the next level during his sophomore season and helped managed the transition to Nick Foles, following Wentz’s season-ending knee injury. This isn’t the first time he has worked with a young quarterback. DeFilippo served as the quarterbacks coach in Oakland during Derek’s Carr’s rookie year, receiving praise for his speedy development.
DeFilippo interviewed for head-coaching jobs this offseason, but instead will coordinate an offense for the second time in his career. He was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2015, but his tenure ended abruptly during the Browns’ coaching change. DeFilippo will be moving for the 19th time on his journey through the college and professional ranks. This time, he has the chance to use his new job as an opportunity to earn a head-coaching job.
During Super Bowl week, many people around the league said DeFilippo’s work ethic, creativity and passion for coaching has carried him throughout his career. The traits seem to align very well with Mike Zimmer’s philosophy for coaches on his staff.
As a new offensive coordinator arrives in Minnesota, there is uncertainty at the quarterback position, but plenty of talent at the skill spots. During the offseason, DeFilippo will need to make his mark on the roster, but past trends give us a glimpse into his philosophy.
DeFilippo’s use of running backs
DeFilippo used running backs in the passing game throughout his career with the Browns. They often ran hitches and slants to exploit mismatches in the coverage schemes. Cleveland’s main running backs had 80 catches in 2015 and DeDilippo made it a priority to isolate his running backs 1-on-1 with linebackers. In fact, he would often spread the field and split running backs out wide to run a simple go route against man-to-man coverage. The clip below shows running back Duke Johnson running a go and torching linebacker Donald Butler.
DeFilippo loves to use plenty of motion and flexing of his running backs/tight ends to reveal coverage tendencies before the ball is snapped. Once and awhile, the quarterback will check into a different play based upon whether man-to-man coverage is present. DeFilippo has to be salivating over the thought of placing a gifted athlete like Dalvin Cook into his system. He also previously worked with Latavius Murray in Oakland and understands how to use him in a complementary role. Free agent Jerick McKinnon would be an excellent fit in this system, but will likely depart for a larger opportunity. If that’s the case, the Vikings will need to draft an all-purpose runner in April. However, the blend of power running and pass catching at the position suits the current depth chart very well.
An athletic all-purpose tight end is necessary
Sift through the Cleveland Browns games in 2015 and you’ll see how much John DeFilippo incorporated tight end Gary Barnidge into the offense. He posted a whopping 79 catches for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. The key to DeFilippo’s offense is having a tight end that can be lined up all over the field to create mismatches. He often flexed Barnidge out wide and ran bunch sets to create rub plays or difficult switch routes. The clip below is an example of Barnidge exploiting the coverage soft spot, which is a matchup DeFilippo loves to target. In certain sets, he'll often will split out to the X spot, too. Trey Burton was used frequently in a similar fashion in Philadelphia.
The Eagles had the combination of Zach Ertz and Burton at their disposal. Burton, a free agent this offseason, is a player the Vikings should target. He’ll likely command roughly $7 million per season and can provide a complementary option to Kyle Rudolph.
It certainly will be a priority to add a matchup threat tight end. Last offseason, GM Rick Spielman openly discussed how the team tried to sign Jared Cook in free agency, but were unable to lure him to Minnesota. They drafted Bucky Hodges, but it didn’t work out. Instead, adding a player like Burton, who is familiar with DeFilippo seems like a logical signing. The Vikings will need to bolster the athleticism at tight end in order to spread the field and attack like DeFilippo loves to do.
DeFilippo’s red zone innovation
John DeFilippo handled the vast majority of red zone game planning for the Eagles and was praised for his work. Philadelphia ranked second in red zone touchdown scoring percentage, playing very aggressive inside the 20-yard-line. DeFilippo’s creativity stands out when you analyze his play design. He ran so many personnel packages and took advantage of the fact he was working with a top offensive line and talent running backs. Much of what the Eagles did in the red zone was centered around the coverage they managed to reveal by using a heavy dose of motion. They also ran plenty of pick plays to create assignment confusion for the opposing secondary. In the clip below, Torrey Smith runs an inside slant and Nelson Agholor runs his route within the combination to slow up the nickel cornerback just enough.
These subtle deceptions inside the red zone were a key staple of DeFilippo’s red zone work. The Eagles would often run read-option, play-action or run a bunch set to create a mismatch for tight end Zach Ertz. The successful running game really set up much of the Eagles’ offensive success. However, Philadelphia was one of the most aggressive teams in the league and took shots in the end zone consistently through the air. The Vikings have two talented wide receivers, running back Dalvin Cook, and tight end Kyle Rudolph already at their disposal. If they can add additional offensive line talent like Georgia guard Isaiah Wynn or Ohio State interior lineman Billy Price, along with a tight end like Trey Burton, the flexibility inside the 20-yard-line is maximized. One of the keys will be the continued improvement of the offensive line to help create balance offensively.
Choosing a quarterback
So many people have been reading into John DeFilippo’s comments regarding the traits he prefers at quarterback. In his introductory conference call, DeFilippo said athleticism, character and decision-making were a few attributes he looks for in a quarterback.
“You don’t need to be a rah-rah guy all the time,” DeFilippo said in the conference call, “but you need to show some form of leadership so other guys will follow you, look up to you and, when times get tough, will play for you.” He added, “I’m not a big believer in quarterbacks that are a stick in the mud back there, they’re in cement back there at 7½ yards deep. Our quarterbacks are going to have to show some form of athleticism, yes.”
Many people thought this signaled the team is leaning toward starting Teddy Bridgewater for the foreseeable future. The comments by DeFilippo came less than 24 hours after he was hired. He certainly will sit down and decide which quarterback suits his system best. Quarterback Case Keenum would certainly fit the same characteristics he was discussing above. However, the price to resign him would likely hover around $23 million for the franchise tag. Perhaps the team will tag Keenum if Bridgewater’s contract tolls over, providing them with an additional year to decide the direction they would like to go at quarterback. In addition, it would allow DeFilippo an opportunity to work with young quarterback Kyle Sloter, who has developmental potential.
However, if Bridgewater’s contract doesn’t toll, the team may elect to resign Teddy, while adding a veteran. In this case, a reliable veteran backup will be needed due to the uncertainty surrounding Bridgewater’s health. Many people believe DeFilippo’s comments signal the Vikings won’t bring back Keenum, but it’s far too early to make this assumption. Bridgewater’s health, paired with his tape in practice will likely go a long way toward making this determination.
No matter how you look at it, the quarterback decision will be key for many people involved, but the uncertainty of Bridgewater’s health complicates the picture even more.
With DeFilippo in the fold, the Vikings managed to snatch one of the top offensive coordinator candidates in the league. Solid groundwork has been laid by Pat Shurmur and the chance to inject additional talent leaves many people feeling optimistic about where the Vikings are heading offensively.
This offseason, several personnel decisions will be important, but the first step has been completed: hiring John DeFilippo -- a rising star.