The 2018 Minnesota Vikings offense was woefully problematic, as we all know. We’ve talked ad nauseum about the bad running game, the pass heavy skew, and the inability to sustain drives like they did in 2017, for example.
Though one game, those things look a lot better in 2019, as does one other statistic I feel has been overlooked in the aftermath of the Vikes 28-12 opening day victory—red zone offense.
In 2018, Minnesota had a hard time getting the ball into the end zone when they had an opportunity, ranking 21st in red zone efficiency last year. They scored a touchdown on only 54% of their red zone scoring chances, and that was a significant contributing factor in their final 8-7-1 record.
On Sunday against Atlanta, the Vikings played very complementary football. When the defense or special teams set the offense up on a short field, the Vikings scored. And they scored touchdowns, not field goals. Let’s review:
On the opening drive of the game, the Vikes defense forced three and out, and then Eric Wilson literally got kicked in the face blocking a punt. The Vikes were set up on the Falcons 21, and Dalvin Cook took the the ball and got to the Falcons 8. It was immediately nullified by a holding penalty, so now the Vikes are backed up to the Falcons 31. Two plays later, from the 23, Kirk Cousins hit Adam Thielen for a 23 yard score.
Technically, it’s not a red zone score, since Minnesota was on the 23. But for all intents and purposes, it is, and they not only scored a touchdown when given a short field, they also overcame a penalty just when it looked like they were on the verge of scoring. Last year this team more than likely fizzles out and has to settle for a fingernail chewing field goal attempt instead.
On their second scoring drive, once again the Vikings were set up with a short field after an Anthony Harris interception started the drive on Atlanta’s 41. After two Dalvin Cook runs got the ball to the Falcons 19 and into the red zone, Minnesota once again overcame a self-inflicted wound. Cousins was hit as he was throwing the ball, and it was originally ruled a fumble that was knocked out of bounds for what would have been a nine yard loss. Head coach Mike Zimmer smartly challenged the play, and it was overturned to an incomplete pass. On second down, Cook rumbled 19 yards for the touchdown.
Their third and fourth touchdown drives were the most impressive ones of the day, going 79 yards on 10 plays, and 80 yards on six plays. The 79 yard drive was aided by two defensive penalties on the Falcons, and two bigger runs by the Vikings. From the Falcons 40, Minnesota had back to back runs by Cook and Alexander Mattison that got down to the Atlanta one yard line, and after Cousins leaped over for the score, the game was well in hand.
Their last scoring drive was a methodical, run oriented drive with one big chunk pass play that took whatever will the Falcons had left and put it through a wood chipper. After a 31 yard catch and run from Cousins to Stefon Diggs, a 15 yard personal foul took the Vikings from their 31 to the Falcons 23. Two plays later, again aided by a Falcons personal foul, Dalvin Cook scored from the 7, moving a mass of humanity from the two across the goal line.
For the game, the Vikings had 10 offensive drives. Four of them were legitimate scoring chances, three official red zone opportunities, and the Vikings came away with four touchdowns, and four extra points woo hoo! They ended up punting five times, but only went three and out twice, and didn’t have a back to back three and out offensive performance the whole day. That’s significant as well, as the number of three and out drives increased substantially from 2017 to 2018, and the amount of consecutive three and out drives more than doubled.
Of course, one week does not make a season make, and there will be ups and downs along the way. Still, though, Mike Zimmer revamped the offensive coaching staff and directed them to run the ball well, score when given the opportunity, and stay on the field.
Through one game, they’ve done that remarkably well.