When Pat Shurmur accepted the job as the new head coach of the New York Giants following the end of the Minnesota Vikings’ 2017-18 season, the purple could have had their pick of just about anyone they wanted to run their offense. They would have had their pick of whatever quarterback they wanted, the best wide receiver pairing in the NFL, and a dynamic young running back ready to return from injury and light up the league again.
While the Vikings brought some coaches in for interviews, they were content to wait until the Philadelphia Eagles’ season ended and offer the job to their quarterback coach, John DeFilippo. DeFilippo had some previous offensive coordinator experience, but had really made his name in working with quarterbacks, specifically Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.
We’re officially twelve games into the DeFilippo era with the Vikings’ offense, and thus far the reviews have been. . .well, let’s call them less than stellar. With what was widely considered an upgrade at quarterback in Kirk Cousins, the Vikings’ offense seems to be significantly behind what it was last season. One of the more frequently named culprits is the Vikings’ difficulty in running the football, but. . .well. . .the difficulty in running the football is definitely self-inflicted.
On Saturday, as I was driving around running some errands, I was listening to SiriusXM NFL Radio, specifically the Movin’ the Chains show with former NFL executive Pat Kirwan and former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim Miller. Part of their show on Saturday was a preview of the contest between the Vikings and the New England Patriots, and they pointed out that in the games the Patriots had lost, they had gotten battered by the run, and talked about the Vikings’ lack of a run offense. Kirwan then brought up the following numbers.
- In 2017, the Minnesota Vikings ran the ball 501 times for 1,957 yards. That’s an average of 31.3 carries a game and an average of 3.91 yards per carry.
- Going into the Patriots game this past Sunday, the Vikings had run the ball 240 times for 938 yards. That’s an average of 21.8 carries/game and an average of. . .3.91 yards per carry.
And those numbers only got better for the Vikings after the Patriots game. Against New England, the Vikings ran for 95 yards on just 13 carries, an average of 7.3 yards/carry. According to Pro Football Talk, that’s the highest rushing yardage total in the NFL this year for a team that had 15 carries or less. In the first half, Dalvin Cook carried the ball just five times, but had gained 62 yards, an average of over twelve yards per carry. In the second half, he carried the ball just four times.
Keep in mind, Sunday’s game was 10-7 at halftime and 10-10 with two minutes left in the third quarter after Dan Bailey’s tying field goal. It’s not as if there was a reason to abandon the running game, and specifically Cook, at that point.
The only man in Gillette Stadium on Sunday that was capable of stopping Dalvin Cook was John DeFilippo. . .and that’s exactly what he did. But that’s what DeFilippo has been doing all year, and it’s probably the biggest part of the reason for the struggles of the offense.
Sure, we know that the Vikings’ offensive line is terrible, but at least in terms of the run game, they’ve been performing at around the same level as they did last season. Actually, if you base it on yards/carry alone, the offensive line is actually better this season than it was last year. (I know that’s not the only measure of offensive line play, but it does kind of poke a hole in the normal narrative about the Vikings’ run offense.) But DeFilippo has thrown anything resembling offensive balance out the window. To what extreme has he done so?
- Under Pat Shurmur in 2017, the Vikings threw 527 passes and had 501 rushing attempts. (I’m not getting into sacks or kneeldowns or any of that sort of thing.) That means that, in 1,028 offensive plays, the Vikings were at 51.3% pass plays and 48.7% run plays.
- This season under John DeFilippo, through 12 games, the Vikings have thrown 491 passes and had 253 rushing attempts. So, in 744 offensive plays, the Vikings are currently at 65.9% pass and 34.1% run plays.
The Vikings have gone from a nearly perfect 50/50 balance between run and pass plays. . .despite a relative lack of success running the football, save for sheer volume. . .to a 2-to-1 ratio of pass plays to run plays. The majority of the offensive personnel is the same, with the exception of the quarterback, but now the Vikings have gone completely pass-happy.
This team isn’t going to win football games that way. This team can’t win football games that way. Not with the offensive line playing the way it is. I understand that this team has Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook. But they’re not winning football games that way. Not just because of the lack of offensive balance, but it’s affecting the defense as well.
- Because of the offensive balance the team had in 2017, the Vikings’ defense faced fewer snaps than all but three teams in the NFL. They were on the field for an average of 59.75 snaps per game and for an average of 27:34 each game, which was the second-lowest figure in the NFL.
- This season, the Vikings’ defense is facing an average of 62 snaps per game, and has been on the field for an average of 30:49 each game.
That doesn’t sound like much, obviously, but the additional time on the field does add up, and with the injuries the Vikings have dealt with, particularly in the secondary, it’s undoubtedly had an effect on the defense. I mean, an extra three minutes per game over the course of twelve games is the equivalent of an extra half of football more than what they were on the field for last season.
Mike Zimmer apparently wants to run the football more. Now, I like Mike Zimmer, and I don’t think we need to be calling for him to be fired or anything like that, but it does lead me to wonder why DeFilippo doesn’t seem to be running the offense the way Zimmer wants him to.
More importantly, I’m wondering why Zimmer doesn’t make DeFilippo run the kind of offense he wants.
When the media asked him if he thought the Vikings ran the ball enough against the Patriots, Zimmer simply said “no.” Well, man, you’re the head coach. . .and if you want the dude with the headset and the play card to call more running plays, then tell him to call more running plays. And if he doesn’t call more running plays, then take the headset away from him and call the plays yourself.
This team has four games to get themselves into a postseason berth that many. . .myself included. . .saw as a foregone conclusion when this season started. They’re not going to get there the way they’re doing things now. That means one way or another, John DeFilippo needs to channel his inner Pat Shurmur and give this offense the level of balance that made them so successful in 2017.