Predicting the outcomes is not easy, and if it was then no one watch the games. Entering the season, not many expected the Vikings to be the last team standing undefeated, yet here they are. Justin Twell examines some of the play designs that have led to the Minnesota Vikings offensive success through the team’s first five games that have all resulted in wins.
The Minnesota Vikings are the last undefeated team in the NFL, sitting at 5-0. Much of the reason behind this perfect start – and perhaps rightly so – is the level of play from their defense, arguably the best in the NFL. I touched on the quality of their linebacking group in 2015 before this season began. Yet shortly after that, the Vikings lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a season-ending knee injury, sparking the trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Sam Bradford. Then with the knee injury to star running back Adrian Peterson in Week 2, many expected the offense to suffer, but this has not necessarily been the case so far.
The Vikings offensive line has suffered from injuries of their own, including both starting tackles, and poor play has accompanied the injuries. The rushing attack is also struggling with Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata since Peterson went down, leading to the Vikings currently standing 32nd in the NFL in rushing with 70.6 yards-per-game. But the unit has still played very efficiently at times, which is all they need to do when you have a defense as good as the Vikings.
Let’s look at the biggest positive on the offense first, and that’s the passing game. Bradford is playing some of the best football of his career right now. The former number one pick currently leads the NFL in completion percentage among QBs with 100 or more completions, with a mark of 70.4%. In that same group of passers (with 100 or more completions), he is second in passer rating at 109.7
The most telling stat for this offense, however, is that they have committed zero turnovers this season. Bradford’s efficiency and confidence in the passing game allows the offense to be safer with the football while making key plays at the right time.
In Week 5 against the Houston Texans, the Vikings came out fast on offense, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions and jumping out to a 24-6 lead by halftime.
On their first possession, its 1st and 10 on their own 16-yard line and already they show intent to kickstart the passing game by stretching the Texans defense. Bradford (#8) is lined up in the shotgun looking at a four receiver set including tight end Kyle Rudolph (#82):
While the play resulted in an incompletion to McKinnon (#21), the offense continued to operate with Bradford in the shotgun for the next three plays, and six in total on this nine play drive that resulted in a touchdown.
On the touchdown, a 36-yard strike to wide receiver Adam Thielen (#19), the Vikings line up with an empty backfield against the Texans’ Cover 1 look as they once again look to spread the defense to find favourable matchups. Thielen makes a nice move to break his go route to the outside as Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph (#24) is caught with his eyes in the backfield. Bradford, throws a perfect pass behind him and before the deep safety can get across to that side of the field. Result; touchdown, and a quick 7-0 lead:
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While the offense can be efficient in the deep passing game, they are willing to use underneath routes with their running backs while disguising that they may go deep using multiple receivers.
Again in Week 5, it’s 3rd and 6 on the Texans 38-yard line. The offense has a bunch formation of three receivers to the right of the formation and a lone wide receiver to the left, with Braford accompanied by running back Asiata (#44) in the shotgun. As the play develops, Asiata runs out to the flat to the left, taking advantage of both the Texans’ linebackers dropping into a deep zone, and the three wide receivers cutting into the middle of the field, taking the cornerbacks with them. The play therefore results in a 23-yard gain and the offense find themselves in the red zone.
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We see a similar play here, but this time it’s Week 4 against the New York Giants. Again it’s a 3rd down play, with the offense facing a 3rd and 5 from the Giants 15-yard line. The offense sends out their 11 personnel with tight end Kyle Rudolph (#82) split wide, and facing tight man coverage with Bradford in the shotgun. This time it’s McKinnon running the flat route and he is able to pick up a key first down.
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Now we can’t talk about the passing game without mentioning leading receiver Stefon Diggs, who has been very impressive to start the season but missed the Week 5 matchup against the Texans because of a groin injury. However, Thielen ensured Diggs wasn’t missed with 7 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown.
If players like Thielen can step up in these situations and the offense continues to not turn the ball over, then the Vikings may remain undefeated for a few more weeks.
As previously touched upon, the running game for Minnesota has been disappointing and it will need to improve as the season progresses and defenses adjust to the passing game.
Despite their struggles, they are not afraid to try something a little different to jumpstart the ground attack. Here it’s 1st and 10 on their own 36-yard line. At this point they are leading 24-6 in the 3rd quarter which gives them an opportunity to try something a little different. McKinnon is lined up in the slot and comes across in motion and takes an immediate handoff on a jet sweep. A very minimal gain was made but the play call is an interesting one and keeps the defense honest.
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The longest run this season is a 25-yard scamper by McKinnon in Week 4 against New York. It’s 1st and 10 on their own 20-yard line and McKinnon takes the toss to the left, but the blocking makes this play work with left tackle TJ Clemmings (#68) and left guard Alex Boone (#76) pulling left, as well as Thielen motioning back inside and making a nice crack block on Olivier Vernon (#54).
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The Vikings’ next game comes against a tough Philadelphia Eagles defense and they’ll need to remain efficient and not turn the ball over for them to get points on the board. The defense will more likely than not keep them in every game this season and the ultimate test of what the offense can really do is if they ever fall behind early. But so far the offense has shown they can stretch defenses and mix in a few unconventional plays.
If they can get the running game going and continue to hang onto the ball over as the season progresses, this Vikings team could well be the top-seeded team in the NFC come playoff time.
Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinTwell78. Check out his work here, including on how the Detroit Lions will fare without Megatron, the elite Minnesota Vikings’ linebacker corps, the potential for a breakout season from the Chicago Bears’ Eddie Goldman, and how the return of Jordy Nelson helps the Packers.
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All film courtesy of NFL Game Pass