Film review: Play-action hits, run-game misses and Bynum's tackling
We take a closer look at some plays from Week 1 that tell the story of the ups and downs
By Matthew Coller
It feels strange reviewing Sunday’s game when the Minnesota Vikings play again on Thursday but the NFL is committed to owning every day of the week so let’s see what we can learn from the All-22 film. For this edition, we’re going to focus on a few things that stuck out in the first half, in particular how the Vikings used play-action to their advantage, Jordan Addison’s first touchdown, the run game woes and Cam Bynum’s impact tackling.
Editor’s note: Apologies for the clips being less edited than past film reviews that have featured arrows and freeze frames. Some computer issues derailed the usual editing process.
The Vikings talked during the offseason about wanting to mix up personnel packages and it turned out they weren’t kidding. Tight end Josh Oliver played 30 snaps, rookie receiver Jordan Addison was in for 36 plays and CJ Ham saw the field on 22 snaps. Part of getting heavier groupings in there was improving the play-action game, which was middling last season despite Kirk Cousins’s history of success running play-fakes.
Against the Bucs, Cousins ran play-action on 34% of his drop backs and went 11-for-14 with 93 yards. While a couple plays were blown up by the Bucs forcing a short pass, there were a handful of Kubiak-style effective plays with Oliver in the game.
The first features fullback CJ Ham going in motion and Oliver pulling, giving the look of a misdirection run in which the offensive line blocks to the right and Alex Mattison looks like he’s going to take a handoff to the edge. Instead Cousins pulls the ball back and uses the wide open middle of the field for a chunk gain.
Notice at the top of the screen that Jefferson keeps two defenders occupied.
Our next play-action pass is an oldie but goodie. The O-line and motion sell an outside zone run to the right and Oliver starts off blocking and then sneaks into the flat wide open to set the Vikings up with first-and-goal.
Nothing about either of these plays is sexy but they are examples of low stress completions that the Vikings must scheme up in order to take pressure off Cousins. There may be some pull for O’Connell to go back toward the 11 personnel that he leaned on last year but simple play-actions like this often mitigate pressure and create open looks without too many moving parts.
Cousins was fifth for most play-action used in Week 1 by the way.
Two Jefferson plays that didn’t involve Jefferson yet…
Right before the Ed Ingram strip-sack calamity, Cousins threw a short pass to Mattison underneath that brought the Vikings to around the 30-yard line. Before I make the point about why I pulled this play, I must acknowledge that there’s all sorts of examples where it appears a receiver might be open and he doesn’t get targeted so without knowing the play’s goal it’s impossible to really say where the ball is supposed to go. With that said, Jefferson runs a comeback (top of screen) toward the sideline that looked like an opportunity to potentially pick up significant yards if he was targeted. TJ Hockenson drew the defender back toward the middle, which seemed to give space for a sideline throw to JJ.
What gets cut off on the film is Jefferson’s full reaction when he realized the ball wasn’t coming his way. It seemed like he thought he was going to turn around and the ball was going to be there. Instead it was already checked to Mattison.
Again, it’s not clear if it was a play drawn up for him but this happened with JJ’s body language several times throughout the game, including a quick third down throw to Jordan Addison that ended up short of the sticks. It seems fair to wonder if some of the reads were sped up with the pressure that came his way.
While Jefferson and everyone else wants Jefferson targeted more, it didn’t take long for the Addison to benefit from the superstar’s presence. On his 39-yard touchdown on third-and-long, Jefferson drew the Bucs’ attention and there appeared to be confusion.
Jefferson lines up in the slot and runs a corner route while Addison goes on a post and two players take No. 18, leaving the safety alone with the rookie running full speed.
The balance between forcing the ball in Jefferson’s direction and using him as a decoy to open up opportunities for others is a constant challenge for the Vikings’ offense.
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