As one-time quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski takes over as the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator this week, he will face some of the same struggles that the fired former coach dealt with.
One of the things John DeFilippo did this season with the Minnesota Vikings when referring to his offensive stratagem was say things like, “we need to create mismatches,” and, “we need to get guys into space to make plays.”
Perhaps DeFilippo looked at the talent of his team and saw a roster of skilled offensive athletes. Guys like Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and…
Just who else did he see?
Not Kyle Rudolph I’m sure, who has nice hands and good size, but has feet like cement and couldn’t break a tackle from a high-schooler.
Not Dalvin Cook, who, less than a year from a complete ACL tear, might be counted on to improve the Vikings’ yardage per-carry, but not give Minnesota a consistent big-play threat without a solid offensive line.
Not Latavius Murray. Not Laquon Treadwell.
Watching the Vikings’ offense as it took on the New England Patriots two weeks ago was as painful to watch as some of the Minnesota games from the recent past when Brad Childress and Bill Musgrave had their hands on the switches. Those contests were plodding affairs where Adrian Peterson was the font and nucleus of all offensive game design, and wins and losses came (except of course, in 2009 when Brett Favre came to town) when Peterson either ran loose or was contained.
DeFilippo turned this script around, yet it remained a plodding affair without a genuine thoroughbred. Against the Patriots in Week 13, Bill Belichick’s defense bottled up Thielen and kept check on a slightly injured Diggs that DeFilippo’s pass offense was throttled down on nearly every Vikings possession and ended up stuck in the mud.
That’s what happens when make you game-plan for the pass to set up the run–and yet don’t adjust to cultivating a run game even when you are having success.
Dalvin Cook was the one chance that Minnesota had in the New England game, and yet DeFilippo, the guy who Sports Illustrated called a “a young and innovative aerial designer” (whatever that means), was absolutely stupefied by a merely average New England defensive squad in Foxboro.
Cook ran the ball nine times for 84 yards while Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins looked into DeFilippo’s “aerial designs” and saw a hundred check-downs a few yards south of first down markers.
As for the following week in Seattle, it was rinse and repeat. Another embarrassment where Minnesota ran fairly well into a stingy Seahawks run defense (Cook averaged nearly five yards a carry), but could not throw into a mediocre Seattle secondary and were actually shutout until garbage time in the late fourth quarter.
Seattle probably did one thing. They watched the tape on the Vikings/Patriots game. This isn’t very difficult, they figured. Lock down the one and two receiver options outside, put pressure on the quarterback with defensive line stunts and flipped assignments, and watch for screens and check downs. There is no color, no imagination, no adjustment here.
And–here’s something cool. They don’t run very much, decipher the defensive design, or control the tempo of the game!
When Minnesota played Tom Brady in New England, he threw the ball to nine different receivers in the game (nine!). Journeyman Patriots fullback James Develin scored two touchdowns and former Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson even had two catches for 53 yards.
Anyone who believes that Minnesota doesn’t have the talent to play better on offense is being fatalistic. Belichick was right when he said that he thought the Vikings were a better offense this year than they were in 2017.
But it was obvious he meant skill-wise and not in game-planning. The Vikings do not have the talent that DeFilippo saw in his imaginative “mismatches”. They have Thielen and Diggs, who will be capped in combination man-zone defenses for Minnesota’s last three games.
Yet they must have players that can contribute, make an offensive difference, and turn the eye of a defense until there is “space” to make a play.
Mr. Stefanski, this team can indeed make the playoffs if they win out. They have the defense and they have the schedule to make this no great mountain to climb.
You’ve been around this team for many years. This is your time.
What do you have?