The Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator abandoned an effective ground game in a loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Coming into this season, the Minnesota Vikings were looking for the missing piece to their Super Bowl aspirations.
Throughout the offseason, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer made several changes and additions to a team that reached the NFC Championship a year ago and after acquiring Kirk Cousins, Sheldon Richardson, and others, the feeling was this was a team that could finish what they started.
One of those moves to help jumpstart the Vikings was to bring in John DeFilippo from the Philadelphia Eagles to be the team’s new offensive coordinator.
As part of the yearly “brain drain” of the Super Bowl champion, DeFilippo was part of a coaching staff that found a way for Nick Foles to play the best football of his career en route to the franchise’s first ever Vince Lombardi trophy.
Armed with a closet full of Jordans and some fancy clips of him dissecting plays with Carson Wentz, DeFilippo was a hot commodity and one that could help a Minnesota offense that ranked 11th in total yardage in 2017 get over the hump in 2018.
As the Vikings sit with a 6-5-1 record after a 24-10 loss to New England on Sunday, that has simply not been the case.
On paper, DeFilippo’s impact has been felt in the passing game where Cousins entered Sunday’s matchup with the Patriots fifth in the NFL with 3,289 passing yards to go with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also been able to make the most out of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who have combined to post 172 catches, 1,928 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the Vikings have struggled on the ground. While this can be contributed to an offensive line that has never been settled since the team gathered for training camp in August, Minnesota ranked 30th in rushing coming into Sunday’s game with just 938 yards on the ground. This was a far cry from when the Vikings ranked seventh in rushing under Pat Shurmur.
With numbers like that, what the Patriots were going to do to stop Minnesota’s offense should have been obvious; take away the Vikings’ passing game and make them beat you with their ineffective rushing game.
Instead, DeFilippo walked right into that trap.
On Sunday, Minnesota was finally able to get some good gains on the ground. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who finally looked healthy after a lengthy bout with a hamstring injury, was able to rip off some big gains while totaling 84 yards on the ground.
It was a nice stat line, but the real issue lied in the fact that Cook only received nine carries while his battering mate, Latavius Murray, toted the rock for four.
With Cook and Murray mothballed by their own offensive coordinator, Cousins was allowed to drop back 44 times. The result was a check-down fest that saw Minnesota’s passing attack generate just 201 yards and saw the quarterback get picked off twice.
Such is the problem with DeFilippo’s first year with the Vikings. When Minnesota’s running game has been stopped, their offensive coordinator has been quick to lean on the pass and quick screens to attempt to get his players out to space. The tendency has led him to become the Leroy Hoard of play calling.
“1st and 10? Let’s run a screen. 2nd and 1? Let’s run a screen. 3rd and 17?”
Sunday’s check-down exhibition was the fifth time that the Vikings have attempted 20 rushes or less this season and the Vikings are 0-4-1 in those games.
What might be more frustrating is that DeFilippo’s abandonment of the rushing attack came on a day where Cook was actually running the ball well and during a game that wasn’t out of hand until midway in the fourth quarter.
This has been a detriment to a team that was insistent that the weapons around Cousins would take some of the burden off his shoulders coming over from the Washington Redskins and they are a far cry from a team that ran the ball 501 times last year (second to the Jacksonville Jaguars at 527).
With the Vikings heading into a last stand against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14, DeFilippo needs to find a way to get the Minnesota offense humming down the stretch.
If he’s unable to do that, a team that was supposed to take a step forward in January may be taking a step back toward their couch.