Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski swallowed his pride and the Vikings’ game plan when faced with a 20-0 deficit at halftime of Sunday’s 27-23 win against the Broncos.
Inside the Vikings locker room during intermission, coaches made a game-changing shift when opting to open the second half in their hurry-up, two-minute offense — installed on Fridays and Saturdays — and scrapped parts of the rest of the week’s game plan that produced 47 yards and no points in the first half.
“To stay in our base offense wasn’t working,” Cousins said.
The Broncos’ fourth-ranked defense pounced on running back Dalvin Cook, stalling the engine that has driven this 2019 Vikings offense. So Stefanski made Cousins the spearhead, putting him in a shotgun, no-huddle offense that was a major departure from an under-center, clock-controlling philosophy.
Cook said the team was calm at halftime despite the score.
“It wasn’t chaotic as you would think,” he said. “It took some men looking each other in the eyes, from both sides, and telling each other that none of this is impossible. Nothing that the coaches have drawn up on the board for us is magical. Plays have been installed we have done them all, so we just need to go out there and execute what the coaches call. In the second half, there was a sense of urgency for us.”
Cousins threw shot after shot in four consecutive second half touchdown drives, proving most efficient when hurrying up to the line; he completed 11 of 14 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns without a huddle against the Broncos, including the 54-yard touchdown to receiver Stefon Diggs and the 32-yard touchdown to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
“We needed to do that,” Zimmer said. “We had to try to tire them down a little bit. We were so lethargic in the first half. Things weren’t going our way; we had to speed it up.”
Adjustments continued in the second half, when Stefanski put down the digital tablet and pulled out the old-school whiteboard “for the first time this year,” according to Cousins, and altered how some go-to plays looked at the line of scrimmage to throw off a stingy Broncos defense.
“One of them was a big play to Dalvin,” Cousins said.
In recent history, the Vikings’ up-tempo shift might not have been so smooth. The offense wasn’t often effective in such situations under coordinators Norv Turner and John DeFilippo. Tight end Kyle Rudolph recalled former coordinator Pat Shurmur, whom Stefanski credits with grooming him, being the first to successfully install a reliable up-tempo offense with keys being shortened calls, codewords and hand signals.
“It’s something that Pat kind of started here,” Rudolph said. “Just mixing it in and using it from time to time. That’s kind of what you saw at the end of the game. To start the [second] half, we were legitimately in our two-minute offense.”
The quickened pace put Cousins into a rhythm and Broncos defenders on their heels.
“They just said we are going to play hurry up football and that’s all they did,” said Denver cornerback Chris Harris. “They tried to hurry us up and scramble us. We got a little discombobulated and communication lacked right there.”
Said Cousins: “The next thing you know, you’re going. You hesitate to do it, because you also know they have Von Miller and a really good pass rush and you don’t want to get into just a dropback game with some of the best pass rushers to ever play, but it worked.”