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Skol Schemes, Week 5: Tricks and Treats

Grading the Vikings trick plays from a Week 5 win over the Bears

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

One of my favorite parts of playing NFL Blitz 2000 was running the double pass. The play initially came as a shock to me, an avid student of NFL Gameday ‘99. As a budding football enthusiast, I concluded that trickeration and deception were the only paths to victory against my more (at the time) video game adept older brothers. Instead, it led to numerous interceptions, over the top sacks, and humiliating defeats. This did not deter the trick plays in our household, however, as we transitioned from the little screen to the back yard. On the mixed concrete and grass, I was wrongfully penalized for a creative center sneak (it is exactly what it sounds like) and had to live at the mercy of the “rules.”

In the NFL, trick plays can strike when we least expect it. Teams may reach into the trick play bag after a sudden change of possession, when they are in desperate need for a chunk play, or to seal the game. Trick plays are entertaining when run well and disastrous when run poorly. Below I grade some of the Vikings trick plays (“trick” defined arbitrarily) from a Week 5 win over the Bears in three important, scientific, objective categories (on a 0 to 5 scale): trickery, execution, and fun factor.

Here are the nominees:

Nominee 1: RPO

Trickery: 0.5/5

Execution: 4/5

Fun Factor: 2/5

Total: 6.5/15

Despite Jerry Rice claiming they are “conservative trickery”, Run Pass Options are not trick plays. At their core, RPOs are meant to put the defense in conflict and give the offense a numbers or leverage advantage. The offensive line will block for a run play to invite the defense to respond to it. There will also be a keyed route or pass concept meant to stretch the defense, attack leverage, or single out a conflicted defender.

There are pre-snap RPOs where a run play is called but the QB decides to make a quick throw based on the defense’s leverage on a receiver. There are also post-snap RPOs where the Quarterback is reading a particular defender or vacated space and deciding if they should hand the ball off or throw it. This decision could even be predetermined by the play call.

RPOs are ever common in the NFL and do not bring about the same excitement as our latter nominees. However, it is interesting to see the Vikings dabble more into the RPO play sheet as they have a strong run blocking offensive line, a generally quality decision maker at Quarterback, and a playmaker on the outside that defenses fear.

Nominee 2: Touch Pass Touchdown

Trickery: 2/5

Execution: 2.5/5

Fun Factor: 3/5

Total: 7.5/15

The touch pass has climbed up from the college ranks to NFL Sundays and, like the RPO, has cemented itself as standard fare. The Vikings took advantage of misdirection on the above play to free up Jalen Reagor. Reagor made it hard on the judges by gaining style points on the way to the end zone with a broken tackle. However, the unblocked defender knocks the final score on this one.

Nominee 3: Quick Snap Two Point Conversion

Trickery: 1/5

Execution: 5/5

Fun Factor: 2.5/5

Total: 8.5/15

The Vikings opened the game with an up-tempo attack on the way to a touchdown. An up-tempo attack generally forces the defense into more basic looks, forces communication to happen quicker, and can prevent substitutions. On the two point play above, the Vikings were quick to get to the line and snap the ball with Justin Jefferson in the backfield. There was great execution to extend the lead on this one while the Bears were still getting lined up, but we can now clear the way for our top two nominees.

Nominee 4: Flea Flicker Screen

Trickery: 4/5

Execution: 2/5

Fun Factor: 4/5

Total: 10/15

The Flea Flicker, allegedly invented in the 1920s by Bob Zuppke, is a tried and true trick play. On a Flea Flicker, the running back will take the hand off before tossing it back to the Quarterback in hopes for increased offensive shenanigans. This action could be used to set up deep shot plays, but the Vikings ran a screen off of it. Dalvin Cook’s toss back is very impressive and smooth, but the defensive stop prevents this play from reaching a higher score.

Nominee 5: Justin Jefferson’s Double Pass Screen

Trickery: 4.5/5

Execution: 4.5/5

Fun Factor: 5/5

Total: 14/15

On a 3rd and 10 in the middle of the second quarter, Kevin O’Connell decided that we were all ready for some fun. The Vikings motioned Justin Jefferson into a common screen look for a quick pass. However, Jefferson caught the ball and threw it near the entire length of the field back to Dalvin Cook who had faked a run before preparing himself behind a convoy of purple. The only thing that would have bumped this score up is if it ended in a touchdown. Hats off to the play design, the execution, and the other nominees who are left fighting for second place on the final ballot.

Honorable Mention: Cam’s Scam

Cam Dantzler did a great job tricking us into thinking he was done with the play after his first attempt at making this tackle. He ended up Houdining the ball away and helped tally a fourth victory for your division leading Minnesota Vikings.