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Film review: Skill and scheme both responsible for Vikings’ successful passing attack

If someone had told you that the Minnesota Vikings would lose their starting quarterback in Week 2 and still rank 10th in the NFL in passing yards, you wouldn’t have believed them.

But the combination of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme, the talents of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, protection from the offensive line and execution by Case Keenum have made the Vikings’ passing game a serious threat. The first half of Sunday’s game in Washington was a perfect storm.

There are few better examples of all the aspects of the Vikings’ passing game working in conjunction than the 51-yard completion from Keenum to Diggs on Minnesota’s opening drive.

The Vikings line up with two tight ends to Keenum’s right. The personnel package draws Washington into using three linebackers and bringing their safety up to the line of scrimmage, putting eight men in the box. At the top and bottom of the screen, Thielen and Diggs have 1-on-1 coverage – a recipe for disaster for Washington’s defense.

Diggs recognizes that cornerback Josh Norman is playing outside leverage, so he starts inside then breaks hard toward Norman’s outside shoulder, spinning him around. Keenum’s play-action fake freezes the safety for a moment, then the Vikings’ QB launches the ball deep toward the sideline in an area where the over-the-top safety cannot reach.

Protection is key on this play. Tight ends Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan both end up 1-on-1 blocking against linebackers and do a nice job of keeping them away from Keenum, who needs an extra split second because of the fake handoff. And Keenum makes the right read seeing that defensive end dropped back into a zone underneath Thielen’s route.

Here’s where Shurmur excels: He often gives the same look as a successful play, but runs it with a different wrinkle. Later in the first half, he loaded the two tight ends to Keenum’s right and kept them both in to block. Keenum runs the play-action and Washington’s safety sprints to get over top Diggs.

Except Thielen’s route went the opposite direction. Instead of coming over the middle, this time Thielen slams on the breaks and runs a fade. His route running ability had the Washington corner on skates and with no help over the top, Thielen was wide open.

Keenum did a good job of adapting to pass rushing coming from Ryan Kerrigan, who is one of the league’s better pass rushers.

Throughout the day, Shurmur – as he has all year – continued to use personnel and formations to throw off Washington’s defense.

On a 38-yard throw on the Vikings’ third offensive drive, Thielen ends up 1-on-1 with linebacker Zach Brown – an incredible mismatch considering cornerbacks can’t even cover Thielen.

How did it happen? Washington isn’t a team that moves their top corner Norman around like the Vikings often do with Xavier Rhodes. When the Vikings broke the huddle, they had 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back), so Washington responded with nickel personnel (two linebackers, three corners). But the Vikings lined up in a five-receiver set with Kyle Rudolph off the line of scrimmage and McKinnon as the receiver at the top of the screen, leaving Thielen set up against Brown.

Clearly Brown realizes before the play there is a problem. He looks back at the safety, who drifts back in zone coverage. It doesn’t take any time at all for Keenum to realize the mismatch and Thielen shakes Brown like there was no defender at all. A poor angle from the safety combined with a deep route by Jarius Wright forcing the other safety deep allows Thielen to have the entire middle of the field open for huge yards after catch.

Over the past few years, the Vikings have struggled at times to punch the ball in the end zone. Not Sunday. They were 5-for-5 in the red zone, in large part because of Shurmur’s creativity and his understanding of what opponents watched on tape.

Against the Cleveland Browns, Jerick McKinnon ran a jet sweep in for a touchdown. So when the Vikings got down to the goal line against Washington, they opened up in a formation with McKinnon and the fullback CJ Ham in the backfield, then both out, leaving an empty backfield.

McKinnon went in motion, leaving Washington to believe he might run the jet sweep. No. 51 follows McKinnon across the line on the fake, while David Morgan gets lost in the shuffle.

The play happened at such a quick pace that Washington isn’t able to get their assignments straightened out. Tempo has been another key focus of Shurmur’s offense.

What does this tell is about the Keenum vs. Bridgewater debate? Two things: The Vikings have a backup in Keenum who is in control of the offense and can diagnose defenses and make the throws he’s supposed to make. It also says that if Bridgewater returns, it will be to an offense that is stacked with talent, a good offensive line and an offensive coordinator who is using his weapons to their fullest extent.

  • Foreman 44

    Great article. Hell all the are all great when Vikes are riding a 5 streak. Loved the analysis of the play where Shurmer machinations presnap get Skins LBer Brown stuck in “Oh Shit coverage” against Thielen LMAO.. In Brown’s defense he actually saved a TD by tackling Adam after Thielen beat the FS with a strong upfield cut and looked might he might take it all the way to the house. Liked the Cut-Ups also.

    • Jordan Musser

      Foreman when I was watching the game live I called that right when they got to the ball. Why is a lb on Thiele I said. Sure enough bam

  • Carl Rasmussen

    Your analysis and videos are so helpful for those of us who are interested, but don’t have access to game tapes.
    BTW – did our backs break any tackles in this game? (It seems to me that their only gains came because of the blocking up front). And, were there any passes to our backs in this game? This seemed to be a feature in previous games.

    • Jordan Musser

      Carl the rbs combined for 100+ yards rushing and McKinnon had two catches that I was aware of. I don’t recall Murray catching any balls but I am sure his time will come.

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  • Gordon Guffey

    {{{ If someone had told you that the Minnesota Vikings would lose their starting quarterback in Week 2 and still rank 10th in the NFL in passing yards, you wouldn’t have believed them.}}}

    I’m the odd ball ~ I have been talking Shurmur up since the day he replace Norv and Scott Turner ~ I have been saying his offense would bring out the best in who ever the QB was ~ Why because the Teddy talk started last year ~ You guy at ESPN made sure of that ~ I’m not shocked that Case is playing as well as he is ~ I posted a link to the NFL QB rankings right here on ESPN and Case is ranked 10 ~ What a shocker ~ And some of you media types and Teddy Only fans want to yank a top 10 QB ~ This too is not a shocker ~ I knew it was coming and have said so many times ~
    That being said if Teddy somehow gets on the field and he is full ready he to should look better than he did in the old Norv offense that was just a worse version of Chilly’s KAO ~ However no offense is going to make Teddy better at throwing the deep balls ~ I for one dont believe that can be fixed but would be excited if it was ~

  • Drediock

    Ya done good on this one Coller

  • Gordon Guffey

    {{{ Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan both end up 1-on-1 blocking against linebackers and do a nice job of keeping them away from Keenum, }}}
    They are doing a nice job blocking for sure ~ Morgan should be used more in the passing game and I believe he will be when the time is right ~ Shurmur said that he had some things lined up for after the bye that teams haven’t seen yet ~
    Shurmur is the real deal and I’m so happy we have him ~

    {{{ It doesn’t take any time at all for Keenum to realize the mismatch and Thielen shakes Brown like there was no defender at all. }}}

    Case has been doing a fine job of this all season ~ Well outside of the Steelers game when he didn’t know he was starting until 90 mins. before the game and Bradford got most of the work that week ~ I put that lose on the coaches for not getting Case more work ~ It was clear in that game the timing was off and the Vikings missed on a couple of big plays because of it ~

  • Gordon Guffey

    {{{ Over the past few years, the Vikings have struggled at times to punch the ball in the end zone. Not Sunday. They were 5-for-5 in the red zone, in large part because of Shurmur’s creativity and his understanding of what opponents watched on tape. }}}

    The nice thing is the offense is just now starting to gel ~ The OL has been outstanding and they did it much faster than I thought they would ~ I am still looking for improvement from the offense as a whole ~

    I love the way Shurmur is using the RB’s ~ Had they keep AP there is no way this could have happened without him throwing one of his crying fits and talking about a trade ~

    Lastly you once again refer to Case as a backup ~ I know you cant control yourself ~ Your just a big old Teddy Only fan who cant stand the thought of the Vikings having 3 QB’s ((( when Bradford is healthy ))) who are capable of starting ~ So you pull out your favorite players card and clam he is the best ~ You guys crack me up ~ LOL ~

    At times you guys almost ((( almost ))) make me hope that the Vikings move on from Teddy and put the money in someone like Brees or Cousins ~ You want to yank a top 10 QB for your favorite player ~ A player we all know has trouble with the deep ball ~ Has had since he was drafted ~

    That being said ~ it is Shurmur who has made this offense go ~ it is he that has made the talent shine ~ It is he was changed the blocking scheme and h=it is he who let Spielman and Zimmer know the kind of OL who fit his offense ~ Gone are the big slow OL ~ Instead we now have players like Easton who many b!tched about starting and playing well at left OG ~ It was he who told them the FA he wanted and it was he who pushed for Spielman to trade uo for both Cook and Elflein ~

    I tip my hat to Spielman and Zimmer for listening to Shurmur after getting burned by Zimmer’s old friend Norv who I’m starting to believe was coaching for Zimmer’s job and thats why he was forced out last year when he refused to change things up from the things he was doing that wasn’t working ~

    • Theguds

      “At times?” We should absolutely move on from Teddy. I can’t understand what people are afraid of, if we let him go. Oh, that maybe he’ll become the next Andy Dalton or Carson Palmer. Maybe.

      With that being said I don’t trust Spielman given his track record with regard to drafting QBs. And no I’m not saying I know better either, but the GM is being compensated very well to have a clue as to what comprises a franchise QB.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Coller other than you referring to Case as a backup this was a good break down ~ Now do a break down of big play of Teddy in 2015 and Case this year and see how things play out ~ I bet you want do it ~ And you know you want do it ~ Its kind of simple really ~ You pulled out your favorite players card and he is the winner for you regardless of how Case plays ~ You know it and a lot of us know you know it ~

    However those of us who know what your and others are up to dont really care who the starting QB is as long as he is playing better than the last QB ~ Just like Hunter replacing Robison who is a fan favorite ~ None of us b!tched about the move ~ Because if he isn’t playing better then there is no reason at all to change something out that is and has been working since Case took over ~ But we know you dont care how well Case plays ~

    • SM

      Your argument holds water only as long as Case wins. He did not beat Pitt nor Detroit, two teams with winning records. A long FG, TJ TFL and boched onside kick bailed Case’s butt out against WA, it never should have been that close. Bonehead interceptions. Maybe Case channeled TB accidentally?

      We’ll see against LAR, DET and CAR. Put up or shut up, as they say.

      Two QBs with career games this year with this OL and OC. The 2015 quoters can’t seem to wrap their heads around that. Why would this OL and OC NOT apply to TB? Because he wears gloves? Case is a good backup. period.

      Hope for the team’s sake they have a short leash on both those guys. Ride the hot hand and swap horses when the pony falls behind. WHEN, not if. Nothing wrong with that strategy, competition is good stuff.

      • Gordon Guffey

        Sam the same thing could be said for Teddy as long as he doesn’t lose games ~ That holds no water at all so it looks like we are at a draw on this ~
        And your going to act like Teddy has never has Special Teams or the defense has never bailed Teddy out of a game ~ Really ~ ???
        Not your going to tell me that Teddy has never made any bonehead moves ~ Again ~ Really ~
        {{{ We’ll see against LAR, DET and CAR. Put up or shut up, as they say.}}}
        Well said SM ~ Thats what most of us have been saying all a long ~
        {{{ Two QBs with career games this year with this OL and OC. The 2015 quoters can’t seem to wrap their heads around that.}}}
        Sure we can and we also remember the 5~0 starts and the 8~0 starts ~ And we have also seen what happens when coaches pets get in the game ~ They only problem for the Teddy Only fans is they want Teddy to start no matter what and us Team fans want wins no matter what ~
        {{{ Why would this OL and OC NOT apply to TB? Because he wears gloves? }}}
        It would ~ But what wouldn’t apply is Case’s deep ball compared to Teddy’s ~ Not even close ~ Also throwing into tight coverage ~ Case fits somewhere in the middle between Bradford and Teddy ~ Sure Teddy has made some good throws into tight coverage ~ But not enough to say you start him just because ~ I posted a link to Mike Wallace stats ~ Take a look at the year before and after ~ Teddy missed him being open a lot ~ If there is no improvement then why make a change when you winning ~ ??? Not just because ~ Teddy has to show he is capable of being better ~ Not equal to Case but better ~ Why ~ ??? Because the Vikings are winning now and to use tam fans thats all that matters ~
        {{{ Hope for the team’s sake they have a short leash on both those guys. Ride the hot hand and swap horses when the pony falls behind. WHEN, not if. Nothing wrong with that strategy, competition is good stuff.}}}
        SM I couldn’t agree more ~ And I believe this is what Zimmer and Shurmur will do ~ I’m no saying that Case should be signed to a 5 year deal ~ I’m saying (((IMHO))) that the Vikings need to try to find a new QB if possible and a good one is there when they pick ((( no reaches ))) be it in the first or second round and let him sit behind Case or Teddy for a year and learn ~ They need a new young and Healthy QB to train IMHO ~ Even if they keep Teddy who I believe they will ~ I have no favorite in this race ~ Only pulling for a winner and right now Case is winning ~

        • Theguds

          Its not set in stone Bradfords done here. What they found in his knee in this last surgery could very well have been what was causing him pain. Which contradicts what was said early on that overall everything was fine and he was just dealing with a bone bruise.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Vikings | Case Keenum will remain starter

    Mon, 13 Nov 2017 13:20:17 -0800

    Minnesota Vikings QB Case Keenum will continue to start despite QB Teddy Bridgewater being available to return.
    Source: CBSSports.com – Jason La Canfora

  • Nick Wells

    Matthew–You’ve softened up your “Butcher Case” comments in order to keep some peace. You’re another young sportswriter who really has no clue. There is a reason why you left Buffalo—-they couldn’t stand you either.





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Previous Story What a difference a year makes: Mike Zimmer is raving about his team’s pass protection Next Story NFL denies Vikings request to have Greg Olsen pulled from broadcast