Offensive formations and film observations: Week 13 vs. Bears
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Welcome to another installment of 'Offensive formations and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Week 13 matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.
Every Tuesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings offense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Every Wednesday, we'll provide you with a similar breakdown and analysis from the defensive side of the ball.
The Minnesota Vikings offense produced 496 yards and 23 points in the overtime win, improving to 343.3 yards/game (14th) and slightly falling to 24.1 points/game (13th).
Regardless of who was at quarterback, the Vikings offense found life against the NFL's worst run defense as running back Adrian Peterson amassed a season-high 211 yards off a career-high 35 carries. Rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson became the first Vikings rookie to score touchdowns from a kickoff, pass and now handoff when he took the second-quarter run 33 yards for seven points.
Quarterback Christian Ponder accounted for 16 net passing yards as he played all but one snap of the first half before exiting with a concussion. Backup quarterback Matt Cassel stepped in and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives that erased a 20-10 deficit to force extra minutes, beginning with his eight-yard touchdown pass to receiver Greg Jennings with 7:41 left in regulation.
A bobbled-catch-turned-interception at the goal line appeared to doom the Vikings chances with less than five minutes left. But after a Bears' three-and-out, Cassel converted on 4th-and-11 from the Vikings' 8 with a 20-yard completion to receiver Jerome Simpson. Cassel took four throws to gain 82 yards before kicker Blair Walsh's 30-yard field goal forced overtime.
More than 360 of the Vikings' season-high 496 yards came with Cassel under center as he also gave life to the team's $45 million offseason addition in receiver Greg Jennings. Jennings caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown from Cassel, including three catches for 38 yards in overtime.
Shotgun 1 tight end / 3 receivers: 23 plays
2 tight ends / 1 receiver / 1 fullback: 22 plays
1 tight end / 2 receivers / 1 fullback: 14 plays
2 tight ends / 2 receivers: 12 plays
3 receivers / 1 fullback: 3 plays
1 tight end / 3 receivers: 3 plays
Shotgun 3 tight ends / 1 receiver: 2 plays
Shotgun 2 receivers / 2 tight ends: 2 plays
3 tight ends / 1 receiver: 1 play
Shotgun 5 receivers: 1 play
3 tight ends / 1 fullback: 1 play
Total: 84 plays
1) The Minnesota Vikings mixed up their shotgun packages more so than before as those looks ranged from five receivers split wide to three tight ends and a running back. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ran three pistol formations, included in the shotgun sets, as the Vikings were out from under center on 31 of 84 plays [37%]. Even though Vikings' tight ends often dictate their formations, only tight end John Carlson had more than one target in the passing game. Tight end Chase Ford drew a taunting penalty late in the game that helped set up the lone target to tight end Rhett Ellison, who bobbled the goal-line catch into the arms of Bears linebacker Khaseem Greene.
The Vikings added a few wrinkles and revisited others. Patterson's touchdown run came behind fullback Jerome Felton has the pair lined up in an I-formation out of the backfield. Coach Leslie Frazier thought deception had something to do with Patterson's success from this look as the rookie's three career runs before this one - all end-arounds - went for -3 yards. However, Patterson's big play derived off fundamental run blocking and the dynamic receiver's ability to change direction on a dime, as we'll break down later. Musgrave also revisited their pistol formations and called three plays out of those in Sunday's win. Ponder handed off to Peterson for a short gain on his lone attempt while Cassel hit Jennings and Carlson for a combined 35 yards in the second half from the loaded backfield formations.
2) Regardless of circumstances, the Vikings moved the chains with Cassel under center where they could not with Ponder. Rookie punter Jeff Locke booted five possessions away in the first half compared to just one in the second. Cassel was far from perfect, as he led four scoring drives into the redzone in the second half, but came away with just one touchdown.
Led by their own backup quarterback, the Chicago Bears ironically didn't score after cornerback Chris Cook was ejected following a 46-yard touchdown catch by receiver Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter. Since the Vikings were always within two scores, the offense stayed committed to the running game and didn't have to pay for late blunders. Cassel's fourth-quarter interception was saved by the defense's ensuing three-and-out, while three Walsh field goals were enough for the win. Ultimately, the Vikings had to capitalize off a 47-yard miss from Bears kicker Robbie Gould in overtime as Walsh's initial game winner was negated by Ellison's face mask penalty on Bears safety Chris Conte.
But the comeback didn't come without some degree of difficulty. Guard Brandon Fusco's holding penalty on 3rd-and-goal in the third quarter prevented a potential 4th-and-1 try after a designed QB draw with Cassel fell just a yard short of the goal line. Cassel then followed up his fourth-quarter interception by going the length of the field in four throws. His game-tying drive came out of the shotgun on all 11 plays as he found Simpson for 44 yards on two catches, Carlson for a 17-yard catch-and-run off play action and receiver Jarius Wright for a 21-yard catch along the sideline at the Bears' 12 to set up the game-tying field goal. Cassel's three attempts at the game-winning touchdown fell short as he had his sixth pass batted away on first down, followed by a drop by Simpson and a throwaway after the Bears sent seven rushers on third down.
3) It wasn't too long ago that running back Adrian Peterson was declaring his distaste for lining up behind a fullback. But against the NFL's worst run defense in the Chicago Bears, the Vikings moved multiple blockers in front of Peterson -- who looked as patient as he has all season. Whether through pre-snap motions or pulling guards, tackles and tight ends -- Vikings' run blockers excelled in one-on-one matchups that led to 112 of Peterson's 211 yards coming before contact, per Pro Football Focus.
To be clear, Peterson ran for over 100 yards on Sunday without being touched against the same loaded fronts he's seen all year that feature eight and sometimes nine defenders. Fullback Jerome Felton and tight end Rhett Ellison laid lead blocks from the backfield while tight end John Carlson had his best game of the season blocking downhill. Filling in for tight end Kyle Rudolph, Carlson has struggled at times when asked to block oversized defensive ends and linebackers. But on Sunday, Carlson had an easier time against replacements for the Bears' two leading tacklers in linebacker Lance Briggs and safety Major Wright.
(Above) Peterson's longest run of the game came on his last attempt in the first quarter. Carlson motioned into the backfield before the snap alongside Felton for the full backfield. After the snap, the Vikings get three blockers in front of Peterson as Felton lays the lead block while Fusco pulls to kick out the end and Carlson seals the safety as Peterson runs untouched for 23 yards.
Both handoffs and pitches worked for the Vikings on Sunday as Peterson took this pitch for 18 yards, untouched, as left guard Charlie Johnson and left tackle Matt Kalil both pull. Patterson blocks out a linebacker as Johnson gets around Ellison's block to seal the outside for Peterson. After laying out Bears safety Chris Conte, Kalil trucks over cornerback Zack Bowman. Peterson's speed proves too much for Bears defenders to adjust as they're crushed under blocks. Like the previous breakdown, Peterson runs untouched for 18 yards until he's forced out of bounds.
Lined up behind the quarterback, Patterson received a pitch right and this photo illustrates what he's looking at after a few steps with the ball. Fusco cracks down on the end while Felton and Ellison each seal out linebackers. All Patterson is left to do is shake the highlighted safety for a reasonable gain. However, after Patterson fakes out Bears safety Craig Steltz, he makes a remarkable cut inside that jukes three Bears defenders en route for the 33-yard score.
4) The Vikings generated nearly 500 yards of offense despite converting just 4-of-17 on third downs [23%]. Their first conversion didn't come until the second half on Cassel's first pass of the game, which he completed to Jennings for 11 yards. Ponder went 0-for-5 on third downs in the first half and took three sacks on those downs as his protection was unstable to start. The Vikings' three fourth-down conversions (3-for-3) led to nine second-half points as Peterson picked up two on the ground before Cassel's play of the game on 4th-and-11 saved what would've been a loss in regulation. With Bears cornerback Tim Jennings draped on him, Simpson ran a 20-yard dig route that ended with Cassel hitting him right on the numbers to get the two-minute drill moving.
5) Receiver Greg Jennings has caught three touchdowns since joining the Vikings this offseason, all from Cassel. Jennings' numbers by the quarterback are varying enough to display as a group. Jennings did not play at the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 17.
From Ponder: 24 receptions, 274 yards in 7.5 games.
Cassel: 15 receptions, 202 yards and three touchdowns in 2.5 games.
Josh Freeman: 4 receptions, 41 yards in 1 game.
Game Ball: The offensive line and Jerome Felton. As illustrated in the third observation, Kalil, Johnson, Fusco as well as center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt all made key blocks that sprang Peterson and Patterson for big gains and a season-high 246 rushing yards. Felton saw just 38 snaps, but was instrumental on Peterson's 23-yard run and two 11-yard gains on the final drive in overtime that set up the game-winning field goal.
Goat(s): Rhett Ellison. Ellison's run blocking did not falter as he was a main contributor to the Vikings' successes on the ground. However, Ellison made two crucial errors: one on a touchdown catch that could've sealed the win in regulation and another error that prolonged overtime. Ellison's 15-yard face mask penalty on Bears safety Chris Conte nullified Walsh's initial game-winning field goal and led to a miss from 57 yards, while the only ball thrown his way turned into a fourth-quarter interception for the Bears' lone takeaway.