The Vikings’ new-look, throwback, smashmouth, Joe Gibbs-honoring, quarterback-protecting, fullback-emphasizing, tight end-accentuating offense dominated in Week 1.
If the Vikings’ offensive brains want their offense to be good, they’ll stick with the plan.
If they want to be great, they’ll throw it out.
This week, and every week.
Mike Zimmer fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, replaced him with Kevin Stefanski and hired Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison to improve the Vikings’ running game, and in the one game they’ve all spent together, Dalvin Cook rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns and the team rushed for 178 and three.
Last Sunday against the Falcons, the Vikings attempted 10 forward passes. They used multiple tight ends and a fullback. They treated their highly paid quarterback like he was a drive-through attendant, handing footballs to whomever passed by.
That game plan worked last week. It probably will work again. But if the Vikings think they’re going to win big by making themselves a running team every week, they will be proven wrong.
And if they think the definition of “balanced attack’’ means running on at least 50% of their plays every week, they will make themselves all too predictable, and perhaps wear down Cook, perhaps their most important player this season.
The Vikings’ template for success should borrow from the New England Patriots. Not the Patriots’ questionable ethics, but their ruthless situational play-calling.
To highlight the genius of Bill Belichick and his offensive staff, let’s look at two situations: their victory at the Metrodome in 2006, and their use of running back Sony Michel.
On Oct. 30, 2006, the Vikings were 4-2 and first-year coach Brad Childress was a hero to the fan base. Yes, he really was. The Patriots came to town for a Monday night game and what the national media thought might be a Super Bowl preview. Yes, they really did.
The Patriots had a first-round pick in their backfield — Laurence Maroney, the former Gopher. They had little receiving talent of which to speak. They were facing an intimidating Vikings defense in a raucous environment.
Conventional wisdom dictated the Patriots running the ball, taking the crowd out of the game and keeping quarterback Tom Brady healthy and upright. But Belichick doesn’t care about conventional wisdom. He saw flaws in the Vikings’ pass coverage and attacked them.
Maroney rushed eight times for 34 yards. Corey Dillon rushed three times for 5 yards. Brady completed passes to 10 different receivers and the Patriots won 31-7.
Establish the run? Why, when you can move the ball through the air?
In the spring of 2018, the Patriots spent another first-round pick on a running back, Georgia’s Sony Michel. In 13 regular-season games, Michel rushed for 931 yards and six touchdowns. In the Patriots’ three postseason victories, Michel rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns, on 4.7 yards per carry.
So in the Patriots’ 2019 season opener against Pittsburgh, Michel, now a fully vested part of the offense, would be important, right? Nope.
Michel rushed 15 times for 14 yards, and didn’t catch a pass or score a touchdown. And the Patriots won 33-3.
What can the Vikings learn from the Patriots’ offensive strategizing?
This: In the NFL, offensive balance shouldn’t be defined by balancing the run and pass every week. It’s being versatile enough to pick on an opponent’s weaknesses.
Against the Falcons, the Vikings scored immediately, then had success running the ball. So they kept running the ball.
Not every game will play out that way. The key to beating the Packers might be Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, or throwing to the tight ends, or using C.J. Ham in the screen game.
Stefanski knows that beating the Falcons while throwing the ball 10 times wasn’t a template; it was a strategic advantage.
“We specifically talked about that, Diggsy and Adam and I on the sideline during the second half of the ballgame,’’ Stefanski said. “We talked about all the things on that call sheet that we can save and hold.’’
It’s fine for the Vikings to have an offensive philosophy, as long as they’re willing to change it every week.