Kevin Stefanski will be the Vikings Offensive Coordinator in 2019, as the team announced Wednesday that they will keep the longest-tenured coach on staff for his 14th season.
But now that it’s known that Stefanski will call offensive plays next season, what will the Vikings offense look like?
Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com recently gave his thoughts on how Stefanski can help improve a Minnesota offense that ranked 19th in points per game (22.5) and 20th in yards per game (345.6).
Coller wrote that one area Stefanski could focus on is how to help the Vikings be more explosive in the passing game, as Minnesota ranked last in the league in yards per completion at 10.1.
Coller noted that 425 of Cousins’ 606 attempts were 10 or fewer yards past the line of scrimmage. Passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage averaged gains of 5.2 yards, and passes thrown between 1-10 yards averaged 5.9 yards per attempt, which was down from 5.7 and 6.2 by Case Keenum in 2017.:
The difference isn’t massive, but it’s telling. One of the reasons for the boom in passing stats is that the best offensive minds have figured out ways to make the most out of short throws. In Sean McVay’s system in Los Angeles, Jared Goff is picking up 6.2 and 6.9 yards per attempt on attempts behind the line and between 1-10 yards.
Coller suggested that getting running back Dalvin Cook and tight end Kyle Rudolph more involved through the air could help ignite the Vikings offensive production.
There are a number of ways the short passing game can be improved, starting with the use of Dalvin Cook and the screen pass game. In 2017, Jerick McKinnon averaged 8.3 yards per reception. The Vikings could get even more out of Cook if they commit to more short throws in his direction.
Also over the final three games, Kyle Rudolph caught 16 passes on 17 targets. He is known as a red zone threat, but he also averaged 7.6 yards per target on first-and-10 and gained six first downs on eight targets on third or fourth-and-short. Tweaking his usage might help Cousins find success in the short passing game.
Another element might simply be the Vikings finding another playmaker at receiver or tight end.
Coller also noted that the Stefanski’s creativity could help the Vikings improve on third down, when teams routinely look to cover up Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
Again, another weapon would help here, but scheme also has to play into getting Diggs and Thielen open in big situations. As last season wore on, defenses started to double team them often when the Vikings were in third-and-long. Between Diggs and Thielen, Cousins picked up just 17 first downs on 49 throws in their direction on third downs with more than six yards to go.
Of course, the best way to avoid that is avoid third-and-long, but when the Vikings do need 7-10 yards on third down, Stefanski will have to find ways to create open space, whether it’s through route combinations, formations, motions etc. or scheme other options for his quarterback. Last year only Andy Dalton, Case Keenum, Blake Bortles and Josh Rosen averaged fewer yards per attempt on third downs with more than six yards to go, per Pro Football Reference.
Minnesota ranked 26th in the league with a third-down success rate of 35.8 percent in 2018. The Vikings converted 15 of 59 third-down attempts (25.4 percent) over the final five games of the season.
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Vikings rank in upper tier for quarterback situations across NFL
The quarterback position is undoubtedly one of the most scrutinized spots across all of sports, much less the NFL.
Teams who have good quarterbacks want to hang onto them, and teams looking for good quarterbacks want to find them quickly.
Dan Graziano of ESPN assess the 32 quarterback situations across the league and ranked the Vikings 11th overall in terms of who they have on the roster.
Yeah, I know. Collapsed in the second half. Didn't beat winning teams. Didn't sufficiently elevate the group around him. They did better the season before with Case Keenum. Not saying any of those arguments about Kirk Cousins is without merit. What I am saying is that the stuff Cousins still has left to prove is all the same as it was last year, when the Vikings were confident enough to guarantee him $84 million over three years.
Two of those years remain, and Cousins picked up a new offense very quickly this season and put up solid numbers. Let's see him with an improved offensive line and a healthy Dalvin Cook. Trevor Siemian is the backup with starting NFL experience.
Cousins, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent in March, completed 425 of 606 passes (70.1 percent) for 4,298 yards with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The 425 completions are a franchise record for a single season, and the 606 attempts tied Hall of Famer Warren Moon (1995) for the most in one season by a Vikings QB. His completion percentage was the second-highest by a Vikings quarterback in one season, and the yardage total is the second-most in team history behind only Daunte Culpepper’s 4,717 in 2004.
The 30-year-old became the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000-plus yards, complete more than 70 percent of his passes and throw at least 30 touchdowns with 10 or fewer interceptions.
Siemian is 13-11 as a starter, and Kyle Sloter has been on the Vikings active roster for the past two seasons.