Offensive formations and film observations: Week 15 vs. Eagles
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Welcome to another installment of 'Offensive formations and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Week 14 matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.
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 455 yards and 48 points in the wire-to-wire win, improving to 353.9 yards/game (13th) and 25.9 points/game (9th) on the season.
Despite 85 rushing yards, which is the lowest total since Josh Freeman started a game at quarterback, the Vikings' 48 points on the Philadelphia Eagles' 30th-ranked defense is the most since a 50-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1998.
Without running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, third-string running back Matt Asiata shouldered 30 carries and crossed the goal line three times in his first career start. Asiata's longest run went just 10 yards, but help set up a fourth-quarter touchdown after Eagles safety Patrick Chung was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the same play.
Quarterback Matt Cassel threw for a season-high 382 yards as receivers Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright both set career marks in the second-to-last game at the Metrodome. The Eagles fought back to cut the Vikings' lead to 27-22 off consecutive third-quarter touchdowns, but ultimately fell under the weight of Cassel's efficiency and their own discipline, or lack thereof.
The Eagles committed three penalties for 48 yards on the Vikings' final two drives that helped result in 14 points. Overall, Philadelphia committed nine penalties that only exacerbated the Vikings' average starting field position at their own 39-yard line. Rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson didn't return a kickoff as the Eagles squib kicked on all but one of their kickoffs, which receiver Jerome Simpson recovered on an onside attempt in the fourth quarter.
Reserve lineman Joe Berger, H-back Rhett Ellison, tight end Chase Ford and Asiata all played expanded roles as the Vikings were forced to deactivate three starters and their No. 2 running back on offense.
Guard Brandon Fusco (knee), tight end John Carlson (concussion), Peterson (groin/foot) and Gerhart (hamstring) were all inactive.
Personnel (Grouping #)
2 tight ends / 2 receivers (12): 21 plays
Shotgun 3 receivers: 1 tight end (11): 19 plays
2 tight ends / 1 receiver / 1 fullback (22): 8 plays
2 tight ends / 1 receiver / 1 OL: 6 plays
Shotgun 5 receivers (00): 5 plays
1 tight end / 2 receivers / 1 fullback (21): 5 plays
2 tight ends / 1 fullback / 1 OL: 4 plays
Shotgun 4 receivers (10): 4 plays
3 tight ends / 1 receiver (13): 1 play
Total: 73 plays
1) Even with their top two RBs and top two TEs out, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ran the '12' package a game-high 21 times as he mixed in fullback Jerome Felton as a H-back along with tight ends Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford. Playing in a game they never trailed, the Vikings ran 33 rushes to 37 pass plays without Peterson and Gerhart.
Musgrave ran out of the shotgun on 28 of 73 plays [38%], with eight of their 19 fourth-quarter calls coming in that set. Quarterback Matt Cassel was particularly efficient from those looks as he completed 18-of-25 throws for 234 yards and two touchdowns from out under center. Cassel also ran twice for 18 yards from the shotgun and added a rushing touchdown, which came off quarterback draw from the Eagles' 6 in the third quarter.
With minimal tight end support, Musgrave added reserve linemen J'Marcus Webb and Jeff Baca to the formation 10 times. Baca was active due to Fusco's injury and saw three snaps that just so happened to amount to Asiata's three touchdowns. On the first of the three, Baca watched from his backside as Asiata crossed the goal line. But in the fourth quarter, Asiata ran for two more scores along the left side as Baca, left tackle Matt Kalil and Felton opened running lanes near the goal line. Receiver Joe Webb (17) saw just six fewer snaps than receiver Jarius Wright (23) as they used their fifth option as a run blocker in heavy formations on the last drive that used more than three minutes of game clock.
2) The Vikings' most efficient passing performance of the season wasn't an accident. Quarterback Matt Cassel's efficiency - missing on nine throws with one throwaway and two drops - helped lead to a season-high 48 points off a season-high 382 passing yards. Only six Vikings caught passes as Cassel only targeted seven receivers. Without doing a little bit of everything, Cassel excelled off a game plan that allowed the Vikings to boil it down to the basics.
However, the game plan only set the table - Cassel had to feast. A commitment to running the football kept Cassel's options in single coverage throughout most of the game. On his seventh throw of the game, Cassel withstood pressure and launched a pass to receiver Greg Jennings, who beat man coverage and outran safety help after catching the ball in stride 44 yards downfield. Jennings caught a career-high 11 passes for 163 yards in his best outing since joining the Vikings this offseason. Cassel went 9-for-9 for 168 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter alone and didn't miss until his 10th attempt of the game, which was caught by Patterson in the endzone, but broken up by Eagles safety Nate Allen.
Only 132 of the Vikings' 382 receiving yards [35%] came after the catch as Cassel hit on four of his five attempts targeted more than 20 yards downfield, per Pro Football Focus. When the Eagles didn't stack a safety in the box, they elected to play 2-deep safety, man coverage underneath for most of the game and Cassel took full advantage. Cassel found receiver Jarius Wright, who totaled a career-high 95 receiving yards, just four times, including a 42-yard bomb that Cassel lofted over Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher and into Wright's arms down the sideline. After the Ravens deflected 13 of Cassel's passes, he had just two tipped on Sunday - one of which led to his lone interception to Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks in the third quarter.
3) As noted above, the Vikings are beginning to reap the benefits of Patterson, without having to put him in harm's way. The Vikings averaged a start at their own 33-yard line on five kickoffs that the Eagles squibbed away from the NFL's leading return man. For this week, we'll take a look at what coach Leslie Frazier called the 'Cordarrelle Patterson Effect' and how it takes hold on the offensive side of the ball. Short on personnel, the Vikings took the opportunity to line up Patterson in the backfield on a handful of plays, one of which we'll take a look at here.
(Above) In the first quarter, the Vikings motion Patterson around the back of the formation. Cassel doesn't even fake a pitch to Patterson, but Eagles safety Patrick Chung already begins creeping up to the line before the snap. Chung hits the 50 before he realizes the decoy and by then, Ford is already behind him on the deep hook route for the 18-yard gain.
On this play, Patterson lined up next to Cassel in the backfield in shotgun. However, by the fourth quarter, the Eagles defense stopped buying into every Patterson fake, evident by this example. Cassel fakes a handoff to Patterson, but five Eagles defenders stay home on the right side of the formation and cover Ellison and receiver Jerome Simpson as they run routes on what is supposed to be the back side of the play. Cassel ultimately escaped to the sideline and threw it away.
The Vikings added a previously unseen wrinkle with Patterson on Sunday, when it appeared they gave him the option to throw the ball on this second-quarter play. Even when it appears the Eagles have corralled him - and his downfield options - Patterson takes the hard way out and avoids three Eagles defenders, marked by yellow X's, before he's dragged down by two Eagles after a 12-yard gain.
4) The Vikings converted on 8-of-13 third-down attempts [62%] as rookie punter Jeff Locke booted away just two possessions after he punted a career-high nine times at Baltimore a week ago. Cassel commanded 12 drives, in which the Vikings scored on eight of them and were a 55-yard field goal away from scoring the most points in a game (51) since a 1970 win over the Dallas Cowboys that featured 54 points. Despite having the NFL MVP on the bench, the Vikings gained 11 of their 29 first downs on the ground.
Due in part to the Eagles' up-tempo offense, the Vikings held the ball for 36:26 and are now 30th in the NFL in time of possession, climbing one rung of the ladder after their season average was raised to 28:02.
5) The Vikings had no intention of becoming one dimensional despite the Eagles' dominance at the line of scrimmage. In his first career start, third-string running back Matt Asiata carried the ball 30 times - Peterson's career-high carries mark is 35, set two weeks ago.
Two weeks after the Vikings dominated the Chicago Bears' 4-3 look to the tune of 211 rushing yards for Peterson, the Vikings struggled once again to run the ball against a 3-4 defensive front. Much like the Baltimore Ravens' outing last week, the Eagles' three down linemen and outside linebackers gave the Vikings fits. Eagles defensive linemen Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox typically tied up the Vikings' interior line as they failed to get to their pulling assignments. The Eagles' three starting defensive linemen not only ate up blocks, but combined for 14 tackles as they helped hold the Vikings to 2.4 yards per carry on 35 team attempts.
Reserve lineman Joe Berger filled in for the injured Fusco as both he and guard Charlie Johnson struggled mightily in run blocking situations - and it wasn't always on them. On a few instances, center John Sullivan or left tackle Matt Kalil would be jettisoned into the backfield at the snap as either Ford, Berger or Johnson would struggle to pull and block because they couldn't get around their teammates. Asiata's resulting 1.7 yards-per-carry isn't exactly the Vikings' M.O., but numerous Eagles penalties help set him up for three goal-line touchdown runs. Combined with Cassel's six-yard scamper for a score, four of the Vikings' six touchdowns came on the ground.
Game ball: Matt Cassel. Cassel made up for the line's unstable-at-times blocking as he completed 7-of-12 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown when pressured, per Pro Football Focus. Overall against the blitz, Cassel completed 11-of-14 passes for 264 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Goat(s): Joe Berger, Charlie Johnson. Both guards were the only linemen to allow more than one quarterback pressure on Cassel's 40 dropbacks. The quarterback took three sacks, one from poor pass protection by Asiata, and saw pressure on 17 plays. The Eagles blitzed 15 times and consistently put adequate pressure on Cassel, who played his best game of the season in the nutshell of accuracy and pocket presence. After struggling with Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs a week ago, Kalil didn't do much better against the Eagles' Trent Cole, who finished with seven tackles - three for a loss.