During John DeFilippo’s 13-game tenure as Vikings offensive coordinator, the biggest thing that became clear was that the team lacked an identity on offense.
So the question now that Kevin Stefanski has taken over the offense is: What should the identity be?
First take: Michael Rand
Well, I think the Vikings’ identity should be a team built around the skills of their two best offensive players — Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Those guys were rolling in the first half of the season, along with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Reverting full-on to a version of the 2017 offense — when the Vikings ranked No. 2 in the NFL in rushing attempts — would be a mistake. But Cousins thrived in play-action in 2017 with Washington, as did Case Keenum with the Vikings. It was assumed DeFilippo would use play-action a lot, and he just didn’t. Using play-action well makes a team unpredictable, which would be a good place to start.
Vikings writer Andrew Krammer: Remember when All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey called Cousins the best play-action quarterback in the league? Yeah, do that more.
Only five QBs have run it at a lower rate this season. It was one of the more puzzling parts of DeFilippo’s time in Minnesota. He had just arrived from an Eagles offense using play-action passes on 26.7 percent (fourth) of Carson Wentz’s throws in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. Many might have been their run-pass options, which was an element DeFilippo installed but didn’t call much for the Vikings.
Run-pass options aren’t a concept the Vikings will likely turn to now with Cousins. But last year’s play-action game, which was heavy on bootlegs and rollouts, should help mitigate eventual pressure and jump-start what has been Cousins’ poor improvisation from the pocket.
But as far as Zimmer’s wish for a better running game, is it feasible? We did see seeds of hope in New England.
Rand: The thing is, the running game hasn’t been terrible. They’re averaging 4.1 yards per carry. That’s below the juiced-up league average (4.4), but it’s not like they can’t run the ball.
It’s a myth that you have to run the ball well to use play-action. The 2016 Vikings averaged 3.2 yards per carry (a yard below the NFL average). But Sam Bradford, playing behind a patchwork O-line, had a 110.2 passer rating on play-action — eighth best in the NFL.
Krammer: The Vikings are one of the league’s most inefficient red-zone teams because they have had just two goal-line touchdown runs this season, compared to 10 last year. And we all know what happens on third-and-short plays. I don’t think DeFilippo was wrong to call more throws than runs in those instances, because the receivers get open more than the linemen are opening lanes.
Because of that line, the Vikings’ offensive identity can’t necessarily be the “physical” one Zimmer has talked about. If they try, it’ll stay ineffective.
Rand: True, but I do think part of their short-yardage problem was being too predictable. They often show formations that are clear runs or clear passes. If Stefanski can master the art of deception, he might just be able to turn things around.
Final word: Krammer
Taking a page out of Pat Shurmur’s playbook could help. I found it interesting Stefanski, a 13-year Vikings assistant who has worked under six different offensive-minded bosses, quoted Shurmur in his first news conference this week.
Whether Stefanski wants to revert to some of 2017’s key principles, such as bootlegs and rollouts while play-action passing, or Zimmer nudges him to do so, it might be the best direction moving forward.
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