As the fall approaches, it is time to engage in our usual traditions. For some, it is back to school. For others, it is Minnesota Vikings optimism. This optimism was unfounded last year with an 8-9 finish, missing the playoffs for the second straight year, and an overhaul of the coaching staff and front office.
But this year is different. Right?
After years of Mike Zimmer’s beloved double A gap blitzes, Kevin O’Connell steps into the spotlight as Vikings Head Coach. With a newly minted Super Bowl ring, O’Connell (and Vikings fans) are hoping the first-time head coach can bring some of the McVay magic to Minnesota.
Kevin O’Connell will be basing his offense out of 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers) just as Sean McVay did with the Rams. If the preseason, or common sense, is any indication, O’Connell will also be carrying over pass concepts that McVay ran with the Rams. Here we take a look back at the preseason tape to simplify some of the passing game building blocks we expect to see the Vikings carry over into the regular season.
Reigning Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp has made defenses look silly running Choice routes. The Choice route gives a receiver three options: beat your defender inside, beat your defender outside, or settle into an open spot in the zone. This freedom is particularly helpful when you have receiving threats that make defenders guess wrong with a quick fake.
The Choice route is at the core of a few concepts in the McVay passing game. One such concept is Choice Stucko. Choice Stucko is generally run from a 2x2 (two receivers to each side of the formation) set.
Both vertical threats are “Alert” reads, which means they can be go-to’s if the Quarterback loves the matchup leverage or the defense presents the offense with an advantageous look. The first step in the progression is the Choice route. The Stick China route from the opposite inside receiver plays on the defense’s coverage rules. The receiver will threaten vertically before breaking out. At this point, it looks like the receiver’s route has finished, and a defender may break on the route anticipating a quick throw. This all happens before the route is broken back inside with eyes to the Quarterback. If the Choice route is covered, the QB’s next read in the progression is the Stick China route, which has hopefully broken leverage and is running into space at full speed. Here are the Vikings running Choice Stucko in their last preseason game vs. the Denver Broncos:
Here is how the Vikings hope Choice Stucko looks during the regular season:
Bow is a proud member of the high-low family that both Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan have used for years. In high-low concepts, the goal of the offense is to isolate a single defender (hopefully a linebacker who is not as strong in coverage as a defensive back) and present a route both above and below their zone. This forces the defender into a bind as they should not be able to cover both routes at once. The QB can react to the defender’s decision and hit the open target. Bow is generally in the later part of the Quarterback’s progression but can be bumped up based on certain defensive looks.
Bow has a Basic route over an Arrow route from a condensed split. The Arrow route is a short stop that asks a receiver to show numbers to the Quarterback but work outside in tight man coverage or if zone defenders are sliding to them. The Basic will come off of an initial vertical stem from a condensed split. Receivers may make this route look different as some round their cut, some slow play the release, and some even climb after their cut. Bow is a universal concept and can also be run with the Arrow route staring outside of the Basic route. There is always the possibility that the routes change based on the receiver’s comfort or by game plan.
Here are the Vikings using Bow as a back side concept in training camp:
Bow is a concept that can be paired with Flag.
Flag is a concept that is usually run from a stack alignment. One receiver will dart to the flat before returning inside on what is called a Drag China route. The other receiver will be working an inside release before pressing vertical and rolling a cut to around 16 yards. A rolled cut allows the WR to use speed to the spot instead of breaking down at a sharp angle. Flag is a frontside concept and will be the start of the Quarterback’s progression. This concept can test a defense’s rules as one common way to combat stack alignments is by having an inside leverage defender take the first inside cut and one outside leverage defender take the first outside cut. In that situation, Flag recaptures the leverage in advantage of the offense by having routes that go outside back to inside for the Drag China and inside back to outside for the Flag. Here are the Vikings using the Flag concept in training camp:
QB Kirk Cousins connects with WR Adam Thielen as he makes a leaping catch over DB Cam Bynum. pic.twitter.com/6FPsQZhwi0— Vikes (@vikesinsider) July 30, 2022
Flag can be paired with Swab on the back side as in the clip above and picture below.
Swab (McVay) or Water (Shanahan) is a back side concept utilizing a Basic over the top of a Shallow Cross coming from the opposite side. The Shallow Cross can stay on the move versus man coverage but sit down versus zone coverage. Swab also falls into the high-low family and stresses a defense’s weak side defenders. It is often run in 3x1 formations with another concept to the 3 receiver side. Flag Swab combines the two concepts as shown in another preseason clip from the Vikings vs. the 49ers:
Understanding the building blocks of a passing offense helps us see how and why certain plays are called. Kevin O’Connell’s job will be to put his players in situations where they can succeed. During the season, Vikings fans hope to see Justin Jefferson shake defenders on Choice routes, Adam Thielen hit in stride on back side Basic routes, and Kirk Cousins throw accurate passes to receivers running Flag routes. I look forward to the journey.