All eyes will be on the Vikings offense as they take the field tonight in New Orleans and even more so when the regular season kicks off in September.
Minnesota is under new guidance with Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and also added the influence of Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak. It's been no secret that the team's offense this season could include different personnel packages, including the implementation of multiple tight end sets.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently delved into the use of “heavier formations” (i.e. 12 or 22 personnel) and said they "could be more effective given that you have running backs and tight ends that can take advantage of base defenses in the passing game."
Ben Linsey wrote:
During the 2018 regular season, there were 15,856 designed passing plays with three or more wide receivers on the field. Those plays averaged 6.05 yards — a figure that takes into account sacks and penalties unlike a number such as yards per pass attempt. There were 5,191 designed passing plays with two or fewer wide receivers on the field, and those plays averaged 6.95 yards. That's nearly a full yard more per pass play with multiple tight ends and/or backs on the field.
Success rate — utilizing the expected points added on a given play — paints a similar picture. Pass plays out of formations with two or fewer wide receivers on the field yielded a success rate of 51.2 [percent] compared to 47.0 [percent] with three or more wide receivers on the field. Given all that, it should come as no surprise that the EPA per play is higher, as well, out of heavier formations.
View images as the Vikings traveled to New Orleans in advance of Friday's first preseason game vs. the Saints.
Linsey pointed out that in 2018, only the Buccaneers and the Patriots notched a higher EPA per pass play "when passing out of sets with three or more wide receivers compared to two or fewer wideouts."
He added that even with these stats, teams generally "pass out of lighter formations at just above a 3:1 ratio compared to heavier formations."
Matchups matter a lot, and more often than not, an offense can dictate those matchups with their offensive personnel. With an influx of receiving talent entering the league at the running back and tight end positions, having those players running routes against a base defense offers a definite advantage over having three to four wide receivers battling against a nickel or dime defense.
6 current Saints preparing to play former team
The Saints currently have six players on their roster who have worn a Vikings jersey and five who spent significant time in Minnesota.
Running back Latavius Murray and longtime punt returner Marcus Sherels signed with the Saints this spring in free agency. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, offensive lineman Nick Easton and fullback Zach Line also are now with the Saints.
Linebacker Darnell Sankey spent a stint on the Vikings practice squad in 2017.
Chris Tomasson recently traveled to New Orleans this week to touch base with the group of former Vikings before the two teams face off Friday night for their first preseason game. He wrote:
Saints [Head Coach] Sean Payton, who is close to Vikings [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer and once coached alongside him in Dallas, said it's just a "coincidence" he has ended up with many of Zimmer's former players, saying all were brought in to fill needs.
Tomasson spoke with Murray, who said that signing with the Saints was a business decision.
"The type of team they are, the teammates, my time there, the friendships I created with everyone in that building, I'll never forget [the Vikings]," Murray told Tomasson. "They'll always be friends of mine, so I'm definitely thankful for that opportunity there. But the business side took over, and I ended up here in a really good place."
Sherels, a Minnesota native, described his time in Purple as "nine really good years that I'll never take back" and added that he's grateful for an opportunity in New Orleans.
Easton is currently vying for the Saints center position.
The Saints picked up Easton after starting center Max Unger retired. Easton is battling rookie Erik McCoy for the starting job, but McCoy has been running mostly with the first team in practice. On Wednesday, Easton worked with the second team at left guard.
It will be interesting to see how many snaps the current Saints play against their former team as the preseason gets underway.
Cousins ranked middle of the pack in QBs 'set up for success'
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has expressed his excitement for Minnesota's 2019 offense and the playmakers that surround him.
With one season in Minnesota under his belt, how will Cousins perform in year two?
Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic recently ranked all 32 NFL quarterbacks in order of those he deemed "best set up for success" this season. He wrote:
So today, we look at which quarterbacks are best set up for success. Things to consider: offensive lines, receiving weapons, efficient running games and coaching.
To be clear, this is not a ranking of the quarterbacks. There are some great quarterbacks down the list. That just means they have to do more to lift their teams.
Kapadia placed Cousins in the middle of the pack at No. 14. He said that the Vikings "might have the best wide receiver pairing in the NFL" with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs but said the depth behind the duo remains to be proven.
The Vikings added highly respected offensive mind Gary Kubiak as [assistant head coach/offensive advisor] in the offseason and are counting on Dalvin Cook to stay healthy and have his best season yet. They made moves up front both in free agency and through the draft, but the offensive line still has plenty to prove.
Cousins' "set up for success" projection was behind Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky, whom Kapadia slotted at No. 10. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was 15th on Kapadia's list, and Lions QB Matthew Stafford was 24th.