Film study: The passing concepts that make the Vikings' offense tick
A look back at the Vikings' passing game vs. the Eagles reveals concepts that consistently got receivers open
By Matthew Coller
There can’t be many times in NFL history that a quarterback has averaged 354 yards passing with a 114.2 quarterback rating in back-to-back games and lost both but that is the case for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Certainly you can argue that some of the stats were inflated by game situation but even the advanced metrics agree on Cousins’s performances to open the 2023 season. ESPN’s QBR and PFF’s grading system both rank him as the seventh best QB in the league to start the year and only two QBs are averaging more yards per pass attempt.
The prolific passing by Cousins is rooted in the intersection between scheme and execution. PFF’s Judah Fortgang tweeted this chart showing how often QBs have thrown to wide open receivers and how accurate they have been when receivers are unguarded. As you can see both Kevin O’Connell’s schemes and Cousins’s throws have been elite.
If you were looking for justification of O’Connell’s positivity toward the future if the Vikings stop fumbling, well, this would be it.
So let’s take a closer look at how it’s working…
What better place to begin than with play-action? Per PFF, Cousins has 25 play-action drop-backs so far this season and he’s completed 20 passes and has a 122.3 QB rating. Early in the game O’Connell dialed up a classic: The deep crossing pattern. The idea is simple: Clear out one side of the field and have Justin Jefferson run into the vacated area.
Jefferson pushes vertically like he might be running a deep pattern straight down the middle of the field and then breaks toward the opposite sideline of where he lined up. There aren’t too many cornerbacks in the world who can track Jefferson across the field that far so if the protection holds up the play is automatic. The design up front has a lot of moving parts and they all come together well with tight end Josh Oliver coming underneath the formation and CJ Ham cutting the defensive end and then going out for a route. All that movement causes the Eagles to pay a lot of attention to the backfield with their linebackers and box safety. The O-line blocks effectively, giving Jordan Addison time to race far enough downfield to draw the single high safety over and Cousins throws an accurate ball at a difficult angle. Bang, first down.
This wasn’t the only time the Vikings used play-action to get Jefferson moving from side to side. Inside the red zone O’Connell got him the ball in a very simple way. Jefferson lines up on Cousins’s left side and goes behind the offensive line as Cousins is faking an outside zone look with the offensive line and running back. The defenders crash toward the run and when Jefferson arrives on the right side the cornerback’s momentum is already taking him toward the running back. Jefferson cruises past him and has an easy first down.
A notable detail of this play is using Oliver to run to the end zone as a clear out. He takes the corner with him and attracts the safety as well.
Our next play is a look at how O’Connell gets TJ Hockenson lined up in space in single coverage where he can routinely win. The three-receiver set has Hockenson lined up off the line of scrimmage as a slot receiver. He motions into a split where he’s essentially behind KJ Osborn. When Cousins takes the snap, Hockenson breaks out toward the sideline as Osborn goes deep down the middle of the field. Hockenson makes a hard cut back inside that leaves the defender in the dust. Once again, the amount of space around the player making the catch is significant. All three receivers are running deep, forcing the two deep safeties to drift 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage when the ball is fired underneath to the tight end.
Hockenson truly is the perfect tight end for what O’Connell wants to do in the passing game.
The next play is Addison’s touchdown.
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