There’s a reason Gerald McCoy got a seven-year, $98 million extension with $51.5 million guaranteed back in 2014.
“He’s a guy who can wreck the game,” Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said after Sunday’s 34-17 win over McCoy’s Buccaneers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Sunday, the Vikings wrecked the 6-4, 300-pound wrecking ball. McCoy, who blew up Chicago’s game plan a week earlier in a rout of the Bears, was a non-factor. The defensive tackle had four tackles and one hit on quarterback Case Keenum, who was hit only three times with no sacks while completing 75.8 percent of his passes for 369 yards and a 142.1 passer rating.
“Well,” said Shurmur, “We certainly paid special attention to McCoy. I thought [offensive line coach] Tony Sparano had a good plan for how to block him, and I thought the guys up front really did a good job executing that game plan.”
They sure did. McCoy, who was listed as questionable because of an ankle injury, already was visibly exhausted before halftime and was forced to the sideline twice in the second half because of that ankle.
“He was nursing the ankle a little bit, I think, but hopefully we were able to wear him out a little,” right guard Joe Berger said. “He’s such a great player. Someone like that, you don’t want to let him get started. We did a decent job of not letting him get rolling.”
Shurmur mixed things up, calling 37 runs and 33 passes. The first three plays of the game set the tone for the day.
First play: McCoy lined up over left guard Nick Easton. Dalvin Cook ran the ball off right guard for 6 yards.
Second play: Berger and right tackle Mike Remmers doubled McCoy. Cook ran 4 yards for a first down.
Third play: Easton single-blocks McCoy. The front of the pocket is clean enough for Keenum to step into a 45-yard completion to Adam Thielen.
“That’s the ideal start,” Berger said. “To get confidence to everybody that we can run the ball. That opened up the playbook right there.”
There were several plays in which the Vikings ran behind a well-timed, well-executed double-team on McCoy.
The best example came on Cook’s game-high 26-yard run in the third quarter. Remmers blocked down, helping Berger drive McCoy way out of the play.
The Vikings also mixed things up in pass protection to account for McCoy. For example, tight end David Morgan lined up in the backfield and helped Berger double McCoy on an 11-yard completion.
There also were multiple times when a single blocker handled the three-time first-team All-Pro defensive tackle. Probably the best example came in the second quarter when center Pat Elflein stayed on McCoy until driving him to the ground in the backfield on a 19-yard completion to Thielen on third-and-7.
McCoy typically lines up over the guard to the tight end side. When the Vikings didn’t double him, they tended to run the ball or roll Keenum away from him.
“We were pretty certain of where he was going to line up, so we could kind of adjust how we were going to call things,” Shurmur said. “But scheme is one thing. The players have to execute, and I think the guys did a really good job battling him.”
Even when the Vikings made a mistake, they got away with it.
Early in the second quarter, Berger pulled to his left on a pass play. That gave McCoy a direct, wide-open path to Keenum. But Cook stepped up with an excellent block that allowed Keenum to throw a 17-yard completion to Stefon Diggs.
“That’s not the block we planned there,” Shurmur said. “We wanted to get a [blocker] on McCoy a little quicker. We didn’t get the fit right there. But, as we like to say, Dalvin saved a life on that one.”
Sometimes, it takes a village to wreck the other team’s wrecking ball.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL