One of the biggest reasons the Minnesota Vikings jumped from 23rd to 10th in scoring from 2016 to 2017 was Pat Shurmur’s play calling and scheme inside the red zone.
The Vikings improved from 29th in touchdown rate inside the red zone last year to 13th this season. In order to continue their success inside the 20, new OC John DeFilippo will have to bring some of the Philadelphia Eagles’ red zone philosophies to Minnesota. The Eagles ranked No. 2 in the NFL this year, scoring TDs on more than 65 percent of trips.
In his first conversation with the Twin Cities media, DeFilippo broke down his mentality in the red zone.
“We’re going to have a touchdown-check down mentality in the red zone,” he said. “We’re going to throw the ball in the end zone if it’s there and it’s not there we’re going to check the ball down. The two best traits of red zone teams in the National Football League is number one, your ability to run the football in the red zone, because there’s safeties are going to be on you. There’s 22 guys in a tight space. Our backs are going to have to do a great a job of running through the unblocked players and then that’s the nature of NFL red zone football. Is your backs taking on that extra player and making them miss, running them over, whatever you have to do to get in the end zone. And the same time we’re going to have plays where all the quarterbacks feel comfortable with because of certain coverages we’re seeing from team to team to be able to cut the ball loose in tight windows down there.”
The Eagles had a near 50-50 split of runs and passes inside the 20 and when they threw the ball, Philadelphia had great success. In fact, Carson Wentz was the highest rated quarterback in the NFL in the red zone this year.
A major part of Philly’s success was due to their personnel. They had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, a strong-armed quarterback, three quality running backs a go-up-and-get-it receiver and an elite tight end. But the Vikings will bring a good line and lots of talent at the skill positions to the table next season.
So let’s have a look at some things that worked for the Eagles inside the red zone that we might see next year…
Like the Vikings, the Eagles used motion inside the red zone to create confusion and mismatches. In a 26-24 win over the San Diego Chargers on the road, Wentz opened the game with an 8-yard touchdown the Alshon Jeffery.
The Eagles had three receivers to the quarterback’s right, but Jeffery motioned to the other side of the formation prior to the snap creating a 2×2 look. Jeffery and tight end Zach Ertz both break off the line toward the back corner of the end zone, then slant back to the middle of field. Running back Corey Clement runs into the flat.
The Chargers’ defensive back follows the receiver in motion, which can indicate man coverage. Even though we have four defenders on three receiving options on the short side of the field, it appears the L.A. defenders aren’t able to communicate their assignments quickly enough. Jeffery is wide open in the middle of the field while the DB who followed him seems to cover the running back instead of Jeffery.
Another concept we see from the Eagles often is using Ertz on posts when Philadelphia is between the 10 and 20 yard line. Teams will sometimes avoid the middle of the field with a single high safety, Philadelphia wasn’t afraid to attack.
On this play, a touchdown pass from Wentz against the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles have three tight ends and LeGarrette Blount in the game, giving all the indications of a run. Instead they go with a play-action pass.
Ertz runs at the outside shoulder of the DB, then breaks back to the inside. The tight end next to the tackle breaks inside, bringing the linebacker with him. The outside tight end runs a quick out, taking the corner out of the picture, creating a 1-on-1 matchup, which Ertz wins. The safety holds for a split second on the play-action fake, giving just enough room for Ertz to make the catch, then he plows into the end zone.
From reviewing all of the Eagles’ red zone touchdowns, they rarely use the same personnel twice. Having three quality tight ends and three excellent running backs with different skills helped Doug Pederson be versatile in his looks.
On our next play, the Eagles dip into the NCAA playbook running a read option with Wentz. They leave the outside linebacker unblocked and have the tackle block the inside linebacker instead. When No. 58 attacks Wentz, he flips the ball to Corey Clement for an easy touchdown. Mack Hollins helps with a block on the cornerback.
As we saw from the Eagles in the Super Bowl, there is no play too gimmicky or creative for Pederson. Expect to see some trickery in Minnesota in 2018.
As mentioned, the personnel looks change with every red zone trip. Below the Eagles bring in six offensive linemen, two tight ends, one receiver and one running back.
Wentz runs play-action and rolls away from the direction the O-line is blocking.
The Broncos scramble to get into coverage after biting on the O-line’s blocking. Three players follow the running back looking for the flat route, leaving Jeffery 1-on-1 across the middle with the corner.
So what we saw from the Eagles this year was a multitude of personnel packages, blocking schemes, misdirection, matchup mismatches and trickery.
Those are the same elements of red zone play that helped Shurmur lead a huge improvement in scoring for the Vikings and the things that will make the Vikings successful in the red zone next year if DeFilippo carries over what he used with the Eagles to Minnesota.