Two months of endless, mind-altering Christmas carols might have played a role in this sudden urge to examine a Rudolph in the Red Zone.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph heads into Saturday night’s game at Green Bay with seven red-zone touchdowns. That’s 24.1 percent of his team’s 29 red-zone scores, not to mention more red-zone touchdown celebrations than all but five NFL players. Only Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham (nine), Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (eight) and Miami receiver Jarvis Landry (eight) have more inside the 20-yard line.
“There are opportunities you can create at tight end that are unlike any other position,” said Rudolph, who has eight touchdowns total. “I think I’ve established myself in the red zone. After my second year, scoring all nine touchdowns in the red zone, you saw the focus shift. I don’t surprise people anymore in the red zone.”
And yet opponents often look confused, as the Bengals did Sunday when Rudolph sprung wide open for a 1-yard score. Defenders followed tight end David Morgan to the back of the end zone and even eligible tackle Jeremiah Sirles on a left-to-right crossing route while Rudolph crossed from right to left.
“Fortunately for me, the Bengals decided to double Jeremiah Sirles,” Rudolph deadpanned.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has helped. Each of Rudolph’s red-zone scores has come out of a different formation. The average length of those seven drives: 11 plays and 82 yards.
“The coaches do a great job of mixing things up,” said Rudolph, who also is tied for third in red-zone receptions (14). “We aren’t predictable.”
Here is a closer look at Rudolph’s red-zone scores:
Week 1, 15-yarder on third-and-9 vs. Saints: Three receivers right, Rudolph split left alone. Shotgun formation with the running back to Sam Bradford’s left.
“We ran a play to put the cornerback in a bind, and Sam made a great throw,” Rudolph said. “Having myself and the running back on the same side makes it tough to defend. The corner has to pick me or the running back. He jumped the running back.”
Week 5, 13-yarder on second-and-7 vs. Bears: Three receivers left, Rudolph tight right.
“That was Case [Keenum] extending a play,” Rudolph said. “I ran my 7 route to the corner. Case rolled to my side. I kind of came back [inside] on a scramble drill. And he found me.”
Week 8, 4-yarder on second-and-goal vs. Browns: Three receivers bunched tight right, Rudolph just outside the left tackle.
“I wasn’t the first option,” Rudolph said. “I was on the backside, but sometimes, depending on the coverage, you can go from secondary to primary receiver immediately.
“Case threw me a high ball in the back of the end zone and gave me a chance to jump over the corner and catch it. I might not necessarily be open, but they can throw the ball to where only I can get it.”
Week 12, 1-yarder on second-and-goal vs. Lions: Two-back power formation with two tight ends right and Rudolph tight left.
“We had all big people in,” Rudolph said. “It looks like run. Then I sneak my way out.”
Week 13, 6-yarder on second-and-goal vs. Falcons: Two receivers left, Rudolph split a couple of yards from the right tackle with Stefon Diggs to his right. Rudolph fakes hard to the outside at the goal line and cuts inside.
“That was a double move, and Case threw a nice ball,” he said. “I’m the primary on that one, and they gave us the perfect look with the corner having outside leverage.”
Week 14, 18-yarder on second-and-10 vs. Panthers: Empty backfield shotgun spread formation. Two receivers left, two right and Rudolph tight left.
“The safeties got a little wide and that allowed me to run right down the middle,” Rudolph said. “I’m not primary. That’s an ‘alert’ throw. Case realized the safeties were wide and gave me a shot.”
Week 15, 1-yarder on first-and-goal vs. Bengals: Two-back power formation with Sirles as the eligible tackle to the left. Rudolph tight right with Morgan to his right.
“That was a hard play-action fake at the goal line, and they really struggled to cover it,” Shurmur said. “If you trick their eyes and you get them close to the line of scrimmage, that can happen.”
Or, as Rudolph said: “That was an easy one. But I’ll take it. Touchdowns aren’t easy in this league. Especially in the red zone.”