by: Daniel House
The Vikings' new offensive system was on display for the first time during Sunday's 28-12 win over Atlanta. Daniel House analyzed what went well for the offense and identified the team's most productive personnel grouping.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski has been developing the Vikings’ offensive system for months. While installing the concepts, he’s taken valuable input from assistant head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach Rick Dennsion. With the assistance of Kubiak and Dennison, Minnesota has implemented a new zone-blocking scheme. This system allows offensive linemen to get in space and gives running backs creases to read. Minnesota will frequently use dashes of inside/outside zone to take advantage of a playmaker like Dalvin Cook.
In Sunday’s game, Minnesota’s new blocking scheme was on display for everyone to see. They ran a heavy dose of outside zone and showed what can happen when a system supports the elite athleticism of running back Dalvin Cook. The team’s star running back tallied 111 yards and a pair of scores in the team’s season opener. He hit the smallest creases with superb acceleration and flashed his above average field vision. During a 28-12 win over Atlanta, Minnesota ran the ball 72.3 percent of the time (excluding kneel-downs and sack yardage). Quarterback Kirk Cousins only tossed 10 passes and dropped back 12 times. It aligns with the identity head coach Mike Zimmer wanted to establish this season -- run the ball and play defense.
Dalvin Cook’s explosiveness was maximized by a blocking scheme that put him in advantageous situations. Kevin Stefanski followed the flow of the game and didn’t shy away from what was working. The variety of Minnesota’s personnel groupings was noticeable and he drew upon some conceptual ideas from former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. For example, in short yardage and red zone situations, he brought in Dakota Dozier as a sixth offensive lineman. While Dozier was on the field, Minnesota converted two of the three short-yardage opportunities and Kirk Cousins plunged in for a one-yard touchdown.
It’s a one-game sample size and the Vikings ran the ball more than usual, but Stefanski really mixed up groupings. In the future, coaches will continue to tweak designs and make similar packages look different. This will help them eventually marry play-action with the running game.
On Sunday, all they needed was the ground game.
Out of 47 offensive plays (excluding kneel downs):
11 Personnel: 12 times (25.5%)
12 Personnel: 11 times (23.4%)
13 Personnel: 6 times (12.8%)
21 Personnel: 11 times (23.4%)
22 Personnel: 7 times (14.9%)
Stefanski also used fullback C.J. Ham on nearly 40 percent of the offensive snaps. Ham helped spark several key runs, including squaring up and taking on Deion Jones in the hole during this six-yard run.
The blocking by Ham within the 21 and 22 personnel packages created creases for the running backs. In addition, the guards did an exceptional job when pulling in space. This is an area where players like Pat Elflein and Josh Kline thrive. There was a fantastic discussion by Brandon Thorn and Matt Bowen regarding Minnesota's usage of pin-and-pull concepts to neutralize defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. I pulled out several examples where Minnesota was trying to pin the defensive tackles and get out in space. When they ran these concepts off a toss play, they had the most rushing success.
Minnesota will continue to use pin-and-pull concepts to get the offensive line out in space. In those situations, the blockers will determine if they need to pin a defensive linemen in a backside gap. If not, the player pulls and helps find defenders in the second level. There are many different reads that need to be made and this video helps describe the responsibilities in deeper detail. Pay close attention to the "tight eagle" portion of the video for a discussion about pin-and-pull against an eight-man box.
The Vikings thrived when getting their guards and tackles out in space. When considering the offensive line's athletic profiles, this is the exact type of blocking concept the Vikings need to use consistently.
Minnesota had tremendous rushing success when they lined up within 22 personnel. Out of this set, they tallied explosive plays of 21, 23 and 17 yards. The team averaged more than ten yards per carry when running out of this grouping. Stefanski called a toss and ran the pin-and-pull concept to get a guard out in space. When he needed to block the end, Kyle Rudolph did an excellent job and even helped spark the first play into the second-level.
Cook and Mattison found creases, accelerated to the edge and displayed their vision to find open creases. In the first clip, they ran a pin-and-pull concept where Cook shows off his open-field explosiveness, cuts back on a dime and tightly slides between two defenders.
These type of toss and stretch plays are things that will work extremely well within the zone blocking scheme. It helps get the offensive linemen pushing into the second level and gives running backs room to work. Last year, there wasn’t much innovation in the ground game and the unit lacked physicality. Now, the blocking scheme is helping improve the group’s deficiencies, while capitalizing upon individual strengths.
When breaking the personnel groupings down even further, Minnesota had success running the ball within a few packages.
11 personnel: 7 carries for 34 yards, one touchdown = 4.76 yards per carry
12 personnel: 7 carries for 7 yards = 1.0 yards per carry
13 personnel: 6 carries for 46 yards, one touchdown = 7.66 yards per carry
21 personnel: 7 carries for 24 yards = 3.4 yards per carry
22 personnel: 7 carries for 73 yards, one touchdown = 10.4 yards per carry
Minnesota's coaches used a dose of 13 personnel to help fuel running plays. During two of the six 13 personnel carries, they split Brandon Dillon and Irv Smith Jr. out-wide. On this stretch play, Brandon Dillon and Irv Smith Jr. did an excellent job of blocking the perimeter when Cook kicked the run outside. Minnesota will continue to frequently use stretch zone plays, so they must reach defensive tackles really well.
The team dashed in 13 personnel and even packed everyone in tight for an inside zone running play. Irv Smith Jr. crashed hard and was the lead blocker who helped push Cook into the end zone. Riley Reiff also did a nice job of scraping up to Deion Jones and clearing out the second level. Smith's run blocking has been much better than expected and played a role in several of Minnesota's successful rushes.
The Vikings had the least success running out of 12 personnel, but many of those running plays resulted in the guards not effectively reaching the three-technique. They blocked well with two tight ends, but the numbers reflect more success when a fullback was on the field.
When Minnesota struggled in the ground game, it was often the result of struggling to reach Atlanta's talented stable of defensive tackles, including Grady Jarrett.
Pat Elflein lost a rep to Grady Jarrett and was unable to reach him. This was an example where Jarrett flashed his hand technique and quickness. He is one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the league and occasionally caused trouble for Elflein and Garrett Bradbury. When Minnesota didn't try to reach Jarrett and pinned him inside by design, there was less trouble. Out of all the offensive linemen, Bradbury probably struggled the most.
As Mike Zimmer noted on Monday, there were reps where Bradbury was moving one way and got beat on the backside. Here is one of the examples:
He struggled a little, but did an effective job when tasked with getting to the second level or reaching defenders at long distances. Several of the toss plays above illustrate areas where Bradbury helped the most.
There was also one pass blocking rep where Bradbury was backed into Kirk Cousins and all he could do was throw it away. On the other side, Josh Kline had an excellent game and will be a key addition to the Vikings' offensive line room.
Although they weren't tested much in pass protection, the design of Minnesota's running game concepts is a clear takeaway from this game. The combination of play design and the Vikings' new personnel is already making a difference. Within the interior, they need to play more consistent, but the players are still young and mastering technique in live action. When Minnesota took advantage of the offensive line's collective athleticism, they had the most success. As the season progresses, they will become more cohesive, comfortable and experienced. However, the unit will need to continue improving in order for the offense to reach its complete potential.
On Sunday, we learned the running game concepts will play a big role in helping Minnesota's offense tick.
I'll have more on this game when the All-22 film is released, so stay tuned!
Credit: Fox Sports for film cuts