EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings run game has yet to get going this season, and Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo emphasized that it’s a focal point.
He also stressed, however, that multiple factors are at play.
“There’s no one in this building who wants to run the ball more than I do,” DeFilippo told Twin Cities media members. “It takes a lot of pressure off me to not have to have the perfect protection, to not have to call the perfect routes against the coverage you think you’re going to get, the quarterback in duress at times. Where if you run the ball with efficiency, obviously it’s a lot easier on the play caller, it’s easier on some of the players.”
DeFilippo went on to say that there’s a fine line when using the term “offensive balance.”
“I feel like I did my job as a play caller, as an offensive coordinator, if our best players, our playmakers, were the ones who touched the ball, in space, and [helped our team have a chance] to win,” DeFilippo said. “If those guys are targeted, [make] catches, our time of possession’s still good, we’re efficient in the red zone, we’re efficient on third down, then at least we gave our team a chance for success. It doesn’t mean we won, but we gave our team a chance for success.”
The offensive coordinator said that he “100 percent” wants to run the ball with more efficiency and assured that the Vikings are “grinding our butts off” to make that happen. But he pointed toward the Rams game as an example, when he felt the better opportunities were against a secondary missing Aqib Talib and with a banged-up Marcus Peters.
“I like our matchups on the outside more often than trying to bang our heads against [defensive tackles] Aaron Donald and Ndamunkung Suh,” DeFilippo said. “Like I said, there’s no one that wants to run the ball more than me, and we’re going to try to establish that and continue to keep grinding on that. But at the same time, there’s a fine line of doing something just to do something and maybe taking some success away from your team.”
Here are other topics discussed Thursday by DeFilippo, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer:
DeFilippo on mentality in 2-minute situations
DeFilippo was asked about his mentality on two-minute situations, which the Vikings offense has faced more than once this season.
DeFilippo said it depends on the situation – second or fourth quarter – and exactly how much time is left on the clock.
“Your mentality, I would say, at times you’re a little more aggressive at the end of the game, if you need to be,” DeFilippo said. “You saw us in Green Bay make a couple tight-window throws and those types of things, where, at the end of the half, not to steal [former Head Coach Hank] Stram’s words, you try to matriculate the ball down the field. That’s what you’re trying to do. It all just depends on the situation.”
DeFilippo also pointed out that there’s a “protection piece” to the equation, as well.
“You need to make sure that you don’t get into an extra-long situation to where you’re going to get out of field goal range,” DeFilippo said. “Or say you have the ball coming out in the second half – our goal is to get points and then double dip. We call it ‘double dip,’ where you score at the end of the half and then hopefully come out in the second half and score again.
“But yeah, the whole mentality changes because of the protection piece, as well, where you’re liable to take a few more chances at the end of the game,” DeFilippo added.
Edwards on integration of Iloka
The Vikings signed safety George Iloka when he was released by the Bengals in August, but thus far he hasn’t been heavily utilized in Minnesota’s defense.
Edwards was asked about Iloka and what he needs to see from the safety to give him a bigger role.
“Right now, the way the rotation has been going, we feel pretty good that he has a good understanding, a good grip of what we’re doing defensively,” Edwards said. “It just depends on, from week to week, which packages we have up. But we have the confidence in him. He’s worked hard since he’s been in here, and possibly he’ll show up some this week.”
Edwards on managing misdirection and motions
The Vikings have faced opposing offenses that have shown lots of misdirection and motions that have effectively kept Minnesota’s defense off-balance.
“It makes it tough because you’re dealing with a lot of seven- and eight-man protections, a lot of times it’s just two-receiver routes and they may leak out late,” Edwards said. “That’s the problem that has shown up, so we’ve got to do a good job of, in those down and distances, doing some things to counter it, and hopefully we can get back on track this week.”
As far as counteracting those offensive attacks, Edwards said there are multiple schematic things they’re working to do as a defense.
Priefer on rotation of returners
Priefer has used a committee of returners on punts and kickoffs so far this season.
Mike Hughes initially started as Minnesota’s kickoff returner but has been more limited on special teams due to stepping into a larger responsibility on defense. Marcus Sherels, the Vikings constant on punt returns, has been sidelined with a rib injury.
Priefer emphasized that with any position on special teams, it’s imperative to have guys ready who can step in and fill a role, including at returner.
“Getting Holton [Hill] some work in the preseason really helped, Aldrick Robinson’s a guy that’s fast and had maybe two or three reps in his career before he got here,” Priefer said. “Working with different guys as punt returners, kickoff returners – you know, Brandon Zylstra did it in [the Canadian Football League] as a punt returner, so he could be a backup for us.
“There’s a lot of different guys, different athletes that you just have to make sure they get reps. And that’s the biggest challenge, making sure that they get enough reps in practice – pre-practice, during practice and post-practice – that when they are called upon during the game, that they’re confident enough that they’re going to catch the ball,” Priefer continued. “As I tell all the returners, number one, it’s ball possession. ‘I don’t care if you get any yards – you have to maintain ball possession.’ That’s the key. So that’s what we need to continue to work on no matter who’s back there.”
Priefer on culture surrounding special teams
The Vikings coaching staff preaches the importance of special teams, and Priefer was asked about a culture that cultivates an “I’m not too good for special teams” mentality.
Priefer said that at the NFL level, all 32 teams should promote that mindset. He also highlighted several colleges that help prepare players in a similar way.
“I think the college coaches that emphasize special teams, especially the head coaches, and then it translates into a good special teams player in the NFL, too,” Priefer said.
“And some of them that don’t, if they don’t, get left behind,” he added. “Unless you’re good enough to play on offense or defense on every snap, you’re going to get left behind.”