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Lunchbreak: ESPN Grades Effectiveness of Play Action Across the NFL

It remains to be seen what, exactly, the 2019 Vikings offense will look like.

One aspect that appears likely after last season, however, is a higher percentage of run plays and play-action calls under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski. According to ESPN, that would be a positive thing for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

ESPN’s Matt Bowen recently delved into the play-action game and handed out a variety of awards, including the NFL’s “best rhythm play-action QB.” Jared Goff of the Rams topped the league, but Cousins was tabbed as the runner-up. Bowen wrote:

Cousins completed 78.5 [percent] of his play-action throws in 2018 (No. 2 in the NFL), with eight touchdown passes and a QBR of 86.9. Those are top-tier numbers, and the Vikings play-action system should expand even more under new [Offensive Coordinator] Kevin Stefanski.

Bowen explained that play-action is important because “it puts defenders in conflict and creates space.”

It’s also the first answer for offenses when looking for a numbers advantage in the passing game. And when executed on early downs, to mimic the base run game, play-action becomes an aggressive tool in the call sheet.

Considering the 2018 season, Bowen called the Rams the best overall play-action team and pointed to the Patriots as the “best power play-action” team. The Chiefs were ranked the best team at play-action screens, and the Rams (again) were called the best at zone play-action.

As the “team to watch” in play-action for the upcoming season, Bowen highlighted the Packers, whom the Vikings will face in Week 2 and Week 16. He pointed out that Aaron Rodgers had a 52.4 passer rating on play-action passes in 2018, which ranked 31st in the league, but still said he expects to see a higher rate of the plays under the new coaching staff.

With new [Head Coach] Matt LaFleur taking over the play-calling in Green Bay, I expect the Packers to run a heavy play-action/screen system with a mix of base 21 (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) and 11 personnel (1 RB, 3 WR). That’s similar to the concepts we see from [49ers Head Coach Kyle] Shanahan and [Rams Head Coach Sean] McVay, which leads to open windows and quick-game throws. Pair that with Rodgers? We are talking MVP-level numbers if the veteran plays with more rhythm inside the pocket. He already puts a ton of stress on opposing defenses with second-reaction throws.

Bowen said that he saw the “post-cross” play-action concept most often in 2018 and also gave an example of the “coolest play-action concept” he watched last season, which resulted in the Rams 70-yard touchdown against the Vikings in Week 4.

Interestingly, Bowen called Shanahan the most creative play-action play-caller. The reason this piques notice is because of the Mike Shanahan influence that the Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak brought with him from Denver. While Stefanski will most certainly be calling Minnesota’s offense, he works very closely with Kubiak.

Keep an eye on the Vikings this season and if they end up more heavily in Bowen’s play-action article a year from now.

Joe Buck says Minneapolis Miracle call ‘most thrilling’ of his career

FOX announcer Joe Buck has been in the business a long time and called a lot of big games, including World Series matchups and Super Bowls.

Buck is heading to London this weekend to call a game between the Yankees and Red Sox, so the Ben Strauss of the Washington Post did a Q&A with the announcer ahead of the trip. While most of the interview revolved around baseball, Strauss did ask Buck to list his top five favorite calls over his career.

Among the five calls were two football moments: Giants WR Plaxico Burress’ touchdown against the Patriots in Super XLII and Stefon Diggs’ walk-off touchdown against the Saints, the Minneapolis Miracle that lifted the Vikings over the Saints in the Divisional Round playoff game.

While “Voice of the Vikings” Paul Allen’s radio call earned the play its forever nickname, Buck’s broadcast call of “Diggs … sideline … touchdown!” has become equally renowned.

“Everyone expected if he made that catch, he’d hop out of bounds, but instead he didn’t and he turned around and ran it in for the winning touchdown,” Buck told Strauss. “We felt the stadium erupt and had one of those definitive moments in football.”

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