In the second half of the Minnesota Vikings’ 14-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons, they dominated possession of the ball, at one point killing more than eight minutes of the clock on a single drive. At the center of their success was Pat Shurmur’s play calling and Case Keenum’s ability to make reads both pre and post snap.
Following a Falcons punt, the Vikings started at their own 11-yard line. That was not a particularly promising situation considering they had struggled to create offense in the first half, but Keenum got the drive started with a 6-yard completion to Adam Thielen.
Big chunks on first down are huge in the Vikings’ offense, which has had great success on third-and-short (more on that to come). So this small successful play sparked the Vikings’ touchdown drive.
Prior to the snap, the Vikings send Jerick McKinnon in motion out wide. The cornerback stays put, indicating the Falcons are in zone coverage. At the bottom of the screen, you can see the other cornerback is playing off the line of scrimmage with outside leverage – another hint that he will be going backward following the snap.
Stefon Diggs comes underneath, holding the strong safety in place as Thielen runs a quick out.
Below you can see the safety beginning to backpedal as Diggs comes his way and the gap between Thielen and the corner.
One key to this play is the Vikings’ blocking assignments. Riley Reiff takes his man outside as the Vikings double team the defensive tackle to create a throwing lane for Keenum.
Here is the play at full speed:
These are essentially run plays through the air. High percentage throws almost guaranteed to bite off a few yards (and with the potential for a big play if someone misses a tackle). Of Keenum’s 360 throws, 221 have come under 10 yards and he’s averaging 5.7 yards per attempt with a 73.7% completion percentage. Those numbers aren’t special, but they indicate the Vikings are often moving the ball with short throws and maintaining possession (the Vikings rank third in the NFL in time of possession).
Successful plays on first down lead to short third downs, where the Vikings have been the best in the NFL this year. Later in the drive, Keenum hit Laquon Treadwell open over the middle for a key first down that kept their 15-play driving moving.
It started with Keenum’s work at the line of scrimmage. The linebacker follows Kyle Rudolph in motion, indicating that the Falcons are in man coverage.
The Vikings have a mesh concept with two receivers running crossing routes. When Keenum takes the snap, he know the linebacker will follow Jerick McKinnon on the wheel route, taking him out of the equation in the middle. That leaves the two corners covering Diggs and Treadwell and the safety, who is stepping up to play robber.
Keenum waits until the robber makes his decision, then goes the other way to Treadwell, who is open for the first down.
Again the Vikings’ offensive line does a terrific job. Both the right end and defensive tackle are forced outside and the other defensive tackle is double teamed and turned, giving Keenum a perfect view of the entire field and a place to step up before tossing Treadwell the ball.
Here is the full play:
So while his occasional standout, gunslingin’ play under pressure over the past few games might be more memorable (and dangerous), Keenum’s work at the line of scrimmage and success on short throws won the day in Atlanta. That success requires a complete effort, from the play-caller to the offensive line to the wide receivers.