There were some positives to take away from Sunday’s loss that could be translatable to success in this short week. Kirk Cousins had drives where he got into a good rhythm, especially with superstar Justin Jefferson. The rookie Jordan Addison had a good showing in his debut, catching his first touchdown off a blown assignment due to Tampa’s Carlton Davis attempting to undercut Jefferson at the first-down line.
Kevin O’Connell seemed strategic as a play-caller, supplementing a run game that couldn’t gain traction with quick pass plays to ward off an aggressive Buccaneers team that led the entire NFL in blitzes called last week (21).
Ultimately, it ended in a 20-17 loss, and if the Vikings want to avoid the proverbial 0-2 skid where only 41 out of 433 (9.47%) teams since the Super Bowl era began have made the playoffs, the offense needs to step up.
In this exercise, we discuss how the Minnesota offense can do that.
Keep third downs manageable
When Minnesota faced third down and six yards or less, they were 4/5 (80%) on the day. The lone missed attempt was a well-timed blitz by Antoine Winfield, Jr., where he strip-sacked Kirk Cousins and gave Tampa the ball deep in Minnesota territory.
Once the yardage hit seven yards or more, the percentages plummeted to 2/7 (28.57%). The last thing that the Vikings can afford is to get into third and long against the Philadelphia defensive line. The New England Patriots went 1/8 (12.5%) against third and seven yards or more.
This Philadelphia front four wants to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. They had the most quarterback pressures of any team last week (28). Minnesota must find a way to get good production on first and second downs.
And when third down comes, use TJ Hockenson. If there is any weakness in this defense, it will be the linebackers. Use Hockenson up the seams and in the middle of the field to force these linebackers to cover Hockenson and others coming out of the slot.
Get the running game/short passing game going early
Another way to mitigate that aggressive defensive mindset is to pepper in the quick passing game. The problem with this against Philadelphia is that they don’t blitz as often as Tampa. They still get pressure with their defensive line, keeping seven defenders back in coverage.
Tampa would continuously send a blitz, leaving a one-on-one or two-on-two opportunity on the outside for Jefferson and K.J. Osborn.
With the Eagles, Minnesota will have to establish the run first and make them commit to stopping Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler. Making it easier for Kirk Cousins to play-action or have a three-step drop and find either Osborn, Addison or Jefferson on a crosser. Anything to slow this front down and not have them shooting upfield after Cousins.
Get the secondary pass-catchers involved
Let me preface this by saying the game plan should always run through Justin Jefferson. Last year, when Jefferson was targeted 13 or more times, Minnesota was 6-1. Even in that loss, he put up a single-game franchise record of 223 yards. Jefferson is a dominant force, and treated as such. Defenses know this, and they give him the attention (double-teams) that he deserves.
In Cousins’ three most efficient games, two saw receptions distributed evenly throughout the offense. K.J. Osborn had a game where he had 117 yards on six receptions. When everyone is a threat, this offense is difficult to stop. With the addition of Addison and his talents, that case is even stronger.
In the Tampa game, it felt like if the ball was not going to Jefferson, the offense felt more difficult. Of course, these types of rhythms and flows build over the length of the season. But in a game where the secondary is as talented as Philadelphia’s with corners Darius Slay and
Execute and finish drives
In the Tampa game, there were far too many missed opportunities for the Minnesota offense to take advantage of. Give credit to Tampa. Their defense made life hectic for Cousins and company. But every time this offense had an inkling of rhythm, something catastrophic would happen.
The false start on the opening drive pushing a third and two back to a third or seven. Ed Ingram swiping at the football and causing a fumble after a nine-play, 60-yard drive that made it to the Tampa Bay 26-yard line. Cousins hesitating and throwing late to Osborn, and Osborn having the ball ripped out of his hands by a rookie on the goal line.
These are things that good offenses don’t allow to happen. NFL offenses will only see around 60-70 plays a game. Make them count. This offense is far too talented to score 17 points. It all boils down to execution and finishing these drives, preferably in the end zone.
The Real Forno Show