If we learned anything about new Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, it’s that he picked up where Pat Shurmur left off in his usage of tight end Kyle Rudolph.
While he was only targeted twice (and possibly three times if there hadn’t been some confusion with Laquon Treadwell), Rudolph had a significant impact on the offense in the Vikings’ 24-16 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
He was used effectively in a number of different roles throughout the game and made a difference as a blocker, in play-action and as a weapon to give quarterback Kirk Cousins informnation about the 49ers’ defensive attack. Out of 60 total snaps, he took 35 in a traditional tight end position, 20 as a slot receiver and four as an outside receiver.
You already know about his red zone touchdown catch in which Rudolph worked a smaller defensive back with a stick route and pulled in a perfect Cousins pass, but so let’s have a look at some other plays in which he was important to the offense’s success….
On this play early in the game, Cousins threw successful swing pass to Dalvin Cook for a nine-yard gain. Rudolph lined up as a slot receiver in this instance and was used as a blocker. As soon as Cousins takes the snap, Rudolph takes off from the line of scrimmage as if he’s going for a route but it quickly becomes apparent he’s targeting the defensive back as a blocker. There have been times throughout his career in which Rudolph has been criticized for his blocking, but he has no trouble overpowering the smaller defender to create a lane for Cook.
Rudolph was a major part of DeFilippo’s play-action attack in Week 1. Cousins’ first-down completion to Stefon Diggs in the second quarter came in part because of the look at the line of scrimmage given by the Vikings. With Rudolph and David Morgan lined up at tight end on the offense’s right side, Cousins runs play-action. Both tight ends stay in to block, which helps to sell the run. Rather than drop back into zone coverage, the 49ers’ linebacker and safety stay at the line and are drawn in by the play-fake. So when Cousins looks for Diggs on the comeback, there is no defender underneath to help the cornerback Richard Sherman.
Furthermore, had Cousins not been pressured, he might have been able to hit Adam Thielen across the middle deep.
In the fourth quarter, DeFilippo pulled out a formation that he used just once the entire day: A three tight end look with all Rudolph, David Morgan and Tyler Conklin all on the same side of the formation.
This time two of the three go out with Rudolph running underneath, Conklin running at the intermediate level and Thielen going deep. The Vikings aren’t able to complete the pass, but they showed the ability to throw out of a three-TE set — which no doubt will be noticed by opponents.
There are lots of advantages to using Rudolph as an outside receiver — one of which being that it tells the quarterback something about the defense’s coverage. On the play below, Rudolph is matched up with Sherman, giving Cousins the indication that there is zone coverage. Otherwise the 49ers would match a linebacker or safety with the massive tight end.
This play did not go in Rudoloph’s direction, but with no safety help on his side, the Vikings could have tried to use Rudolph’s size advantage against the smaller cornerback.
Cousins added that pre-snap movement from the tight end also gives him an idea of what’s coming.
“There will be all kinds of different formations and motions and shifts and try to not be too easy to prepare for and have to be ready for whatever the defense will throw at us,” Cousins said. “Anytime we can change their eye control and give them something to think about. Hopefully we can unsettle them a little bit.”
On a third down late in the first quarter, the Vikings picked up a first down with the “all curls” concept. That’s exactly what it sounds like. All four receivers run a curl route, attempting to space out the defense and find a gap for an open receiver.
In this case, Rudolph’s route breaks in before he comes back to the quarterback, drawing the safety over in his direction just enough for Cousins to find a lane to Thielen for 14 yards.
Many of these concepts should remind you of the way the Eagles used star tight end Zach Ertz against the Vikings. If that’s the case, there will be plenty more to come when it comes to DeFilippo using his versatile tight end.