Friday, December 20, 2019

Inside the Film Room: The Vikings' Offensive Rhythm and Special Teams Success

Photo: NFL GamePass
The Vikings found an early offensive rhythm during Sunday's 39-10 win over the Chargers. Daniel House thinks part of the team's approach could carry over to Monday night's game against Green Bay. Find out why!

 by: Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL)

When the Vikings’ offense is clicking, the coaches are utilizing a heavy mix of play-action, quick passing and bootlegs.

During Sunday’s 39-10 win over the Chargers, Minnesota's opening script produced one of the most rhythmic drives of the season. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski dialed up a heavy dose of motion, misdirection and screens, which helped keep edge players honest. If defensive ends gets too far downfield and the ball carrier reverses direction, edge contain is broken. When teams use misdirection and motion, the defense is forced to maintain eye discipline in the second level. As we talked about on social media, this was probably part of the scheme to slow defensive end Joey Bosa. When considering the threat of a reverse or jet sweep, Bosa had to be patient and less aggressive with his rushes. For example, in the first clip below, watch how Bosa freezes. His eyes shift in another direction and Olabisi Johnson’s jet-motion blows past him.
Also, by attaching a reverse to the play-action-style plays, you can help slow defensive ends that may crash. With the threat of a few different wrinkles, the defense (specifically the front-seven) is forced to be more honest. Minnesota’s first offensive drive against the Chargers was an example of the rhythm this offense can establish when making subtle tweaks.

This type of strategy could be very effective in Monday night’s game against the Packers. During Green Bay’s 21-16 win over the Vikings in Week 2, the Packers’ defense strategically crashed hard on quarterback Kirk Cousins’ bootlegs. This led to several pressures and throwaways in the flat.

The Vikings could possibly use motions, reverses and inside rushing plays to keep edge contain honest. With a little variation and misdirection, the defense has to be disciplined. If they aren’t, the risk of being burned by a subtle tweak increases. If you can provide a variety of different looks, the defensive ends will naturally slow up. There are also a few ways to chip with a tight end or fullback swiping down to the edge. Minnesota’s creativity from the first drive of the Los Angeles game could translate very well to Monday night’s game. There will also be other opportunities on the ground to take advantage of potentially aggressive play on the edge.

I also thought tackle Brian O’Neill did an excellent job of handling Joey Bosa in 1-on-1 situations. There were many instances where O’Neill stepped up during key third-down situations.

He is easily one of the most underrated tackles in the NFL and has developed at a rapid rate. The entire offensive line is protecting really well and continues to benefit from Minnesota’s use of play-action and rollouts. These type of decisions help slow pass rushers and give the quarterback more time to throw. I encourage you to check out the Pro Football Focus study that explored this trend.

Play of the Game and Kendricks’ performance

There are always a few plays that flip the entire script of a football game. Right before halftime, the Vikings’ defense converted a takeaway into points. The play drastically turned the tide in favor of Minnesota. Defensive end Danielle Hunter put right tackle Sam Tevi on his back and stripped quarterback Philip Rivers. Hunter falls to the ground, gets back on his feet and sprints downfield to lead Ifeadi Odenigbo into the end zone. I also want you to pay attention to the second part of this sequence. Linebacker Eric Kendricks roll tackles running back Austin Ekeler, which prevents him from getting up to chase down Odenigbo. The Vikings’ defense created a whopping seven takeaways in this game, which allowed them to take control of this game. The turnover right before halftime was the key turning point in the Vikings’ win.
This season, Kendricks is changing the entire Vikings' defense. He has been dominant in coverage and displayed those skills in this game. There were instances where he was tasked with covering wheel routes or plays in the flat. He covered them perfectly and caused incompletions. This year, no linebacker has more pass breakups in the NFL (12) than Kendricks, according to Team Rankings. He's also been equally impressive against the run. Kendricks’ instincts and range allow him to make a variety of difficult plays in this system. He is truly playing at an All-Pro level right now.

The Vikings are still trying to improve the consistency of their secondary. Los Angeles was 6-for-11 on third down, including three key third-and-long conversions. There are several instances where a small lapse in communication causes trouble. Other times, a defensive back is in position and can't finish the play. The Vikings started to tighten things up as the game progressed, but it was largely a product of Minnesota's pass-rush getting to the quarterback more frequently. During Monday night's game, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will hang onto the football and try to extend plays. Green Bay currently has a 71% pass block win rate, which is the highest mark in the NFL, according to ESPN. This means the Vikings' defensive backs will be tasked with covering downfield and preventing big plays.

Special Teams Contributions

One of the most important indicators of success is when a team can play complementary football. The Vikings’ special teams units played at a very high level in this game. First, cornerback Kris Boyd continues to make an impact on the coverage units and notably downed a punt. He has been arguably the most consistent performer on the Vikings’ special teams units. Punter Britton Colquitt also hasn’t booted a touchback the entire year and is pinning teams deep. He is flipping the field with deep punts that feature a high amount of hang time.

In addition to those individual performances, the Vikings have had so much success when deploying different punt block schemes. During Sunday’s game, special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf used a variation of the A-gap twist to block a punt. Kentrell Brothers crashes hard and Eric Wilson loops in front of him. Andrew Sendejo was also sent up the A-gap behind Brothers. The protector/interior didn’t pick up the twist correctly and Wilson had a free run at the punter.

These designs are something that Maalouf brought with him from his past stops in Baltimore and Miami. During his six seasons as an assistant in Miami, the Dolphins finished in the top-five of punt-block percentage each year, including a first-place finish in 2014 (4.92%). With Maalouf in charge, the Vikings have been more aggressive with their punt block looks and it’s helped them create several big plays.

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