Last Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings made it clear early on that they were going to establish the running game. They were able to do that, recording 35 rushes for 145 yards and two touchdowns – 125 yards and a touchdown came from Adrian Peterson on 29 carries.
The Vikings have three tight ends – Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and MyCole Pruitt – that they have confidence in and all three of them received a good amount of playing time against the St. Louis Rams.
Rudolph played in 61 of the team’s 72 offensive snaps, Ellison received 47 and Pruitt received 19. All three of them were on the field almost 20 percent of the time, but having at least two tight ends on the field seemed to be the game plan from the start.
“Yeah, we talked about it all week,” Pruitt said. “It was going to be a lot of tight ends in the game plan and I think we executed it well.”
Run blocking has been an emphasis for the tight ends since training camp and there have been plenty of struggles throughout the season. But it now seems to be reaching a point where there is more good than bad, and head coach Mike Zimmer reiterated that on Monday.
“They’re getting better,” he said. “Most of the time when we had good runs the other day, the tight ends that were in there blocked well and then when we didn’t have good runs they missed. So it’s still a work in progress, but I do think they’re getting better. I think they’re taking a lot more pride in it and it’s been an emphasis for us.”
Run blocking is not the only thing that gives the team an advantage when they put three tight ends on the field, though. They also get a boost in the passing game by using play-action passes.
Three tight end sets are nothing new for the Vikings offense, even if they may have used it more this past weekend. They have run plays out of this kind of formation 29 times this season and 22 of those plays have been running plays. This means that things are likely to open up for the Vikings when they decide to throw the ball out of this formation.
“We did (use three tight ends), that was part of the reason, to be able to have some physicality in there but also to widen them out a little bit and I think it helps with some of the play actions as well,” Zimmer said.
All three tight ends were utilized in the passing game last weekend with Rudolph coming away with two catches on two targets for 30 yards, Ellison recording two catches on three targets for 11 yards and Pruitt recording one catch on two targets for six yards.
The tight ends know that they are going to be asked to stay in and block a lot this season, especially with multiple starting offensive linemen out with injury. They have accepted that role, but they still like to go out and catch passes, too.
“The tight end room, each of us had a catch and that goes a long way,” Pruitt said. “To know that the offense can rely on us to make plays, it’s a good thing.”
Even though the Vikings have used three tight end sets from time to time throughout the season, it may become more common from here on out after they had success running the ball this past weekend against a strong defense. If that is the case, look for them to primarily use it on first-and-10, where they have ran three tight end sets 14 times this year so far.