The Vikings continued preseason action and picked up a 25-19 win over Seattle. Daniel House reviewed the offense in his latest film session.by: Daniel House
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It didn't take long for the Vikings' offense to get into a rhythm during last week’s preseason game. The first-team unit kicked off the season with an 8-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski used a variety of personnel packages and blended in play-action to get quarterback Kirk Cousins on the move.
Many of those trends continued in Sunday’s 25-19 win over Seattle. Within the first couple plays, Stefanski was already using different designs to get Cousins out of the pocket off play-action.
The first-team unit continued to vary personnel groupings and lined up in the following sets during Sunday’s game.
11 personnel: 6
12 personnel: 6
21 personnel: 6
13 personnel: 1
However, unlike last week, a few key mistakes ended the unit’s only two drives of the night. First, the offense tried to set up a screen pass to running back Alexander Mattison. It was the perfect play call, especially considering the Seahawks brought pressure. Cousins just missed Mattison, who had green grass and three blockers in front of him.
On the next play, Cousins botched a snap and the offense faced its first significant third-and-long of the preseason. It was the first chance to test the offensive line in a long passing down. Seattle sent pressure with an inside stunt and the Vikings’ offensive line didn’t adequately pick it up. One of the linebackers crashed hard and Pat Elflein got sucked up inside. As a result, Elflein couldn’t pick up the stunt. Josh Kline also got beat with a spin move and Cousins was forced to throw the ball away. It looks like Garrett Bradbury and Elflein didn’t pass off of the stunt very well and it contributed to the pressure.
The offensive line had a few positive moments in the ground game, including this six-yard Alexander Mattison run. Fullback C.J. Ham blocked the edge, while both Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein opened lanes on the left side. Mattison also lunged forward through contact to pick up a few additional yards. This is an aspect of Mattison’s game the Vikings liked. They wanted a running back who could muscle through contact and pick up extra yards by sometimes just falling forward.
During the first-team unit’s second drive, Kirk Cousins connected deep with wide receiver Adam Thielen, who had man-to-man coverage on the outside. Thielen ran a simple go route, but his footwork and ball tracking skills helped him reel in the 34-yard grab. We’ve become so accustomed to Thielen’s smooth releases and tough adjustments, but many of them are truly artistic masterpieces. If you watch this route closely, you'll notice his impressive last-second adjustment and footwork off the start.
Cousins placed the ball perfectly up the sideline and Thielen managed to gain just enough separation to bring it in. The drive moved inside the Seattle 10-yard-line, but a clipping penalty on Kyle Rudolph pushed the offense back 15 yards. Moments later, kicker Dan Bailey booted a 24-yard field goal to end the first-team’s night.
Throughout camp, the door has been open for a young wide receiver to emerge and claim a roster spot. Brandon Zylstra started training camp on the physically unable to perform list and is slowly working his way back. Last week, offensive advisor Gary Kubiak said he noticed Zylstra was starting to look more comfortable again. It translated to the field as Zylstra had five catches for 37 yards. In the clips below, he used a slant over the middle and a shallow crosser to get separation. He also muscled through contact at the top of his route to gain enough separation for the four-yard touchdown reception. Kyle Sloter did an effective job of escaping the pocket, extending the play and throwing off balance.
Zylstra could be in a race with Jeff Badet for the final wide receiver spot. Badet probably has a slight edge, especially if he earns the main kickoff return duties.
Kyle Sloter has put together two strong preseason performances and led the combined second/third-team units on two long scoring drives. Kevin Stefanski got Sloter into a rhythm by moving him around the pocket and giving him quick passing options. Sloter’s ability to play off schedule and make throws on the run is a strength of his game. However, he still hasn’t had an opportunity to play against a complete second-team defense. Perhaps this will happen soon to assess how he plays versus increased competition. During Sunday's game, Sloter completed 11 of his 13 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. On one drive, Sloter found Laquon Treadwell three times for 42 yards, including a 16-yard reception over the middle. On Sunday night, the offense was in a rhythm and flowed as Sloter found his receivers through the quick passing game. As you noticed above, he also connected with Brandon Zylstra and fired a quick slant between two defenders. Now, we'll see if he eventually gets any action against increased competition to determine whether he is worth keeping on the roster.
Sean Mannion saw a little action in Sunday’s game and helped lead a 7-play, 63-yard scoring drive. A big play in the sequence was the result of Mike Boone’s receiving skills. Boone ran a “V” route (some coaches call it a Texas concept) and was shifty at the top of his route to leave linebacker Jacob Martin in the dust. Once Boone got into the open field, he was able to show the type of explosive plays he can create in space.
Boone is a gifted athlete (check out my piece on his testing metrics) and has past experience as a receiver. The young running back rushed for 66 yards on 21 carries, including an elusive 15-yard burst. Boone also had two positive pass protection reps, including during a touchdown pass from Sean Mannion to tight end Irv Smith Jr. With Ameer Adbullah out, Boone continued his strong preseason campaign and is making a convincing case for the third running back job.
Sean Mannion’s biggest lapse was the result of an apparent miscommunication. It’s very difficult to see the entire coverage without an All-22 angle. However, it appears confusion occurred regarding which route Chad Beebe was running against this look. Beebe stopped at the top of his route and Mannion thought he would continue running. DeShawn Shead intercepted the errant throw it took it the other way for a touchdown.
Tight end Irv Smith Jr. was also heavily involved in the Vikings' passing game, grabbing five receptions for 28 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted off short outs and played at multiple different alignments.
The coaches could bunch up Smith Jr., Thielen and Diggs to create tough matchups for opposing defenses. There are many different ways the Vikings can scheme to create mismatches for their playmakers. I expect Irv Smith Jr. will play a role in Minnesota's 12 personnel packages this year.
Throughout the night, Minnesota continued to utilize a fullback. They used 21 personnel more than 30 percent of the time and had two tight ends on the field for 27 percent of their total snaps. For the second consecutive week, fullback Khari Blasingame had another strong performance, including a 20-yard reception and three key lead blocks.
11 personnel: 23 - (31%)
12 personnel: 20 - (27%)
13 personnel: 3 - (4%)
21 personnel: 25 - (34%)
22 personnel: 3 - (4%)
In the play below, the Vikings lined up in 13 personnel with three tight ends on the strong side of the formation. Instead of running right, the play design had Mattison going left and into a wide-open rushing lane. Left tackle Dakota Dozier sealed off the edge and Mattison broke free for a 22-yard gain.
This is the type of personnel variation and play design we may see from offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski in 2019. With the type of players the Vikings have on the depth chart, there is room for creativity. By mixing things up, the coaches can make similar packages look slightly different, or add a subtle wrinkle to a particular grouping.
The second and third-team offensive line units continued to show physicality in the running game. This is the biggest difference I've noticed across all of the units. They are finishing blocks to the whistle and getting to the second level when possible. After reviewing the game, one of the most impressive run blocking snaps occurred late in the fourth quarter. Brett Jones' rep was phenomenal and Oli Udoh drove into the second level to find work. Tight end Brandon Dillon had an excellent cut block on the edge, too. This was an impressive sequence by the entire unit.
The same group also managed to get an excellent push on the goal-line. Last year, across all units, the Vikings frequently didn't have enough interior physicality to pick up a single yard. They've already provided some reason to believe they'll at least be able to win those type of battles in 2019.
Oli Udoh was pretty solid in pass protection and continued to stand out as a run blocker. Brett Jones has also paired a solid training camp with two strong preseason outings. Within the second-team unit, Dakota Dozier allowed a couple pressures in pass protection, but has been making an impact in the ground game. Dru Samia worked with the second-team and has been up-and-down. However, you certainly see all of his potential. Over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how they approach roster cuts at the position.
For an "Upon Further Review" of the defense against Seattle, click here!