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Hurry-up attack helps Vikings inject some tempo into offense

 

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) plays against the Green Bay Packers before an NFL football game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

 

Given the time Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur spent in Philadelphia, at the controls of Chip Kelly’s fast-paced spread offense, it probably shouldn’t be surprising to see some elements of the scheme make their way into what the Vikings are doing under Shurmur. And while the Vikings are far from the fastest-paced offense in the NFL this season, it’s worth noting the tempo with which they are running plays, especially given where they’ve ranked in the past.

According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings are running a play every 27.56 seconds this season, which is the 17th-fastest tempo in the league this season. The site’s situation-neutral pacing metric, which attempts to take the influence of particular game situations out of the equation, has the Vikings as the sixth-fastest team in the league.

It becomes more noteworthy when you consider where the team was the past two seasons: The Vikings were 24th a year ago, running a play every 28.35 seconds, and they were 27th in 2015, clocking 28.93 seconds between plays. Their situational-neutral pace in those years ranked 14th and 24th.

It’s here we should note the 2015 Vikings had the league’s leading rusher in Adrian Peterson and a second-year starting quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, so they had neither the need nor the ideal capacity for a fast-paced offense. With Norv Turner’s well-worn scheme in place, too, the Vikings probably weren’t going to push the pace much; the Chargers didn’t rank any higher than 24th in Turner’s six years as head coach.

This season, though, the Vikings have found a faster pace can work to their benefit at times. They ran a hurry-up offense in Chicago before Jerick McKinnon’s 58-yard touchdown run, creating confusion among the Bears’ linebackers, and called upon it several times on Sunday against the Packers. The Vikings can use it to mix things up on offense, as another tool at Shurmur’s disposal, and they’ve shown a willingness to get on the ball and go this year.

It’s also worth pointing out here what coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday: that it was important to the Vikings to have athletic linemen. No hurry-up scheme is going to work if the offensive line isn’t in good enough shape to get down the field (particularly after a big play) and set up quickly. But in addition to buoying the Vikings’ screen game with their ability to get out and run, the revamped line is able to facilitate a hurry-up offense with its level of fitness.

Even without Dalvin Cook the last two weeks, and without Sam Bradford for all but six quarters this season, the Vikings have found a way to be productive on offense in part because of how many wrinkles Shurmur has introduced to the offense. A well-timed hurry-up attack is one the Vikings have shown they can execute comfortably.

Strong defensive tackle play stopped Packers before Rodgers' injury

On a day when Pat and Kevin of ‘Williams Wall’ fame were honorary captains for the Vikings, current defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson paid homage with their own play.

The duo’s play started the disruption of the Packers’ zone runs while Mike Zimmer kept the Vikings in the smaller, nickel personnel (five defensive backs) for all 66 snaps.

Even with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers gained 25 yards on eight plays before his injury. Green Bay’s run was particularly ineffective against the Vikings defense as Rodgers handed off for gains of 0, 1, 1 and 5 yards.

Look no further than the play of the Vikings’ front, which defensive end Everson Griffen explains takes collective pride in “attention to detail.”

“I trust on you to cover your gap. I’m going to cover my gap. That’s how it works,” Griffen said. “I trust in Tom [Johnson] when he’s playing 3-technique that he’s going to be in the B gap. Or if he gets a power scoop, he’s going to flatten them out. He trusts me when a tight end comes in to try to cut me off, I’m going to pressure the inside shoulder and be in the C gap. And we trust [Linval Joseph] that he’s going to set the wall in the middle like he always does. We trust the 5-technique, he’s going to press him on the backside when he get the alley hinge or any type of reach over there. It all works together.”

Neither Packers quarterback got help from running the ball, which gained Green Bay just two first downs and 3.0 yards per carry.

“Overall, it was a solid, fundamental defensive front,” Zimmer said.

Let’s take a look at three Rodgers handoffs and one blitz on Brett Hundley, both keys to the Vikings establishing an early lead in the 23-10 win. Here to help is Dan Hatman, a former NFL scout and Director of Scouting Development at The Scouting Academy. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @Dan_Hatman.

On the second snap, the Packers look to take advantage of the Vikings’ aggressive rush with a draw play. Joseph (98), Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks read, react and converge on Ty Montgomery for no gain.

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“Looks like a Cover-1 style coverage with the linebackers banjo-ing [like a switch in basketball] the running back,” Hatman said. “The coverage gets Harrison Smith to insert over Kendricks, who aligns in the backfield. Smith and Kendricks insert aggressively. Joseph gets the double based on being the 1-technique. He does a great job to lock out the left guard, get his vision in the backfield and time his shed from the block to tackle the ball. Great team defense, but Joseph really stands out. He shows what amounts to 2-gap technique, which is harder to execute and does a good job.”

On second-and-2, Johnson (92) is three yards in the backfield, in a critical spot, by the time Jones cuts on his first run for a gain of just 1 yard. As left tackle David Bakhtiari turns his back to “widen” Griffen, as Hatman said, Johnson is attacking the space directly behind him to close an initial lane.

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“It may have been drawn up [for Johnson] to attack the B gap with Bakhtiari widening Griffen,” Hatman said. “With Tom Johnson quickly resetting the line of scrimmage versus the left guard’s reach block, Ripkowski [fullback] adjusts and takes it outside, trying to pin Griffen in. Jones [running back] peeks outside, but Smith had set the edge and forces Jones back inside to the teeth of the defense. Kudos to Johnson on this one.”

On this first-and-10, Johnson knifes through the line again to help stall this Jones run for 1 yard.

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“I remember asking Jim Washburn about why he taught run defense through the lens of ‘stop the running back on the way to the quarterback,'” Hatman said. “He talked about the fact the passing game is bigger than ever and everyone runs inside zone. The biggest destructor of a zone run play is penetration. Johnson explodes upfield, attacks Evans’ playside shoulder, gets tremendous push upfield and even is able to shed the block and almost make a play on the ball himself. At the very least, he bubbles the play, forcing Jones to widen laterally and giving the DBs time to insert and make the tackle. Another impressive snap for Johnson.”

Make no mistake, the Vikings were plenty aggressive when Rodgers was in the game. Linebacker Anthony Barr appeared to be a key on Rodgers’ scrambles, spying the quarterback on the opening third down and later ditching his coverage immediately to hit Rodgers once he left the pocket. But when quarterback Brett Hundley entered, Zimmer called three of the Vikings’ only four blitzes within Hundley’s first nine dropbacks.

They worked, netting two sacks and a QB hit, including this third-and-5 below.

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“The DBs on the line of scrimmage help here as it gives the blitzers the flexibility to hide their intentions,” Hatman said, “as the coverage screams man-to-man regardless of what they do. So Smith inserting over the tight end makes even more sense. Not sure Hundley gives Smith a second thought. With Smith being the second rusher off that side [Barr the first], the quarterback usually has to throw hot off that defender. Hundley is looking at the other side of the field and only comes to the pressure once he feels [Brian] Robison.”

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