Mike Zimmer has preached throughout the season his confidence in his Minnesota Vikings, but the head coach knows what has become increasingly obvious with each passing week – the Vikings aren’t dominant and need to play a certain way to win.
What that comes down to for him is playing smart, disciplined and tough – the clichéd mantras of nearly every NFL coach. But with a running game that is last in the league and not rising in the rankings anytime soon, along with an offensive line ravaged by injuries at tackle, the Vikings have had to get creative with their offense.
New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is answering the call with new plays being designed and executed.
“I think each week is evolving. There were some things that we had this week that we’ve added off of different things,” Zimmer said. “Other weeks we’ve had other stuff too and haven’t had them called so I just think some of that was timing and situations and we called them.”
Without a conventional running game to lean on, the Vikings have increasingly turned to the Wildcat, mostly with Jerick McKinnon and his college experience at quarterback taking direct snaps. Much of the time, that has meant McKinnon running it. Other times he has handed off to Matt Asiata or a receiver on an end around.
This week, the Vikings went razzle dazzle.
McKinnon took a snap, handed it to Cordarrelle Patterson around the end, who pitched it backwards to quarterback Sam Bradford, who lined up in his traditional Wildcat spot split out. Bradford heaved it downfield toward to the goal line to Adam Thielen, who couldn’t make the catch but drew pass interference at the 2-yard line. The Vikings punched it in from there to take the lead.
“You know, sometimes you put your best athletes out there and let them create,” Bradford joked about being lined up at receiver. “But it’s kind of been the same as it’s been in the past couple of weeks. We just feel like there’s some things we can do in our Wildcat package with Jet (McKinnon). We feel like we’re advantageous in the run game and we felt like they presented some good looks for that today. So, that’s why we got to a few of those.”
The Vikings were far from explosive on Sunday, generating only 217 yards and becoming the only team in the NFL this year to win with less than 220 yards of offense, according to ESPN, and they have done it twice with the rest of the league going 0-for-10 in those situations.
It isn’t pretty because it has been so unbalanced. They gained only 72 yards on the ground Sunday and averaged only 3 yards a carry, which for them is actually better than average.
Bradford’s throw to Thielen out of the Wildcat was a new play put in with Shurmur taking control of the offense.
“That was a little wrinkle you never seen. I was happy for it. I wish Adam would have came up with it, but we’ll talk about it in the meeting room,” Stefon Diggs said.
“(Shurmur) does a great job play-calling and put guys in position to be successful. It’s amazing to watch.”
Thielen didn’t make the catch there, but he made an impressive one for a touchdown, hauling in a back-shoulder throw near the goal line, spinning and diving and yet getting both feet down before his momentum carried him out of bounds.
“Great catch. To have the body awareness to get two feet down after making that catch was incredible,” Bradford said of Thielen’s touchdown. “It’s just one of those things you see every game with Thielen. He’s so consistent in what he does.”
Bradford pretty much admitted that he hadn’t even heard of Thielen before he arrived in Minnesota. When asked if he had, Bradford replied: “Can I choose not to answer that one?”
With issues on the offensive line, the Vikings have adapted with a quick-passing game and receivers like Diggs, Thielen and Patterson having to essentially replace an anemic running game.
This is the Vikings. Injuries have forced them to adapt and they have.
They will rely mostly on defense, hoping to get some big plays there and on special teams, which they did on Sunday, and perhaps get just enough out of their offense.
An increasingly creative offense.