EAGAN, Minn. — The congratulatory texts that Kevin Stefanski received for his role as interim offensive coordinator in Minnesota’s 41-17 win over Miami on Sunday were appreciated, but he doesn’t have time to dwell on them.
Stefanski told media members Thursday that he was pleased with the effort and the ability to run the football. He commended the offensive line for the way they came off the ball and said “anytime you’re running with that type of success, it’s the tight ends, it’s the running backs, it’s the wide receivers” [blocking].
Minnesota racked up 220 rushing yards, its most in one game since 2015 at Oakland.
The Dolphins rank 31st against the run, allowing 145.2 yards per game, but the Lions are 16th (115.4 per game), so the Vikings are expecting a tougher challenge in the ground game.
Players have said that they felt Stefanski was able to keep the Dolphins defense off-balance in his first game as a play caller.
He was asked if he expects it to be tougher to keep teams off-balance once tendencies are on tape and said it is “important to know yourself.”
“I am talking about knowing our staff and knowing our scheme and knowing our plays,” Stefanski said. “We try to know ourselves as well as the opponent does because that informs us in our decisions and in our scheming and in our game planning.”
Stefanski said that he wants to keep things fresh.
“The fun part of this business is you get in on Monday and you erase the board, and then you say, ‘How are we going to put a plan together to win this game?’ Will there be some carryover? Sure, but I hope it’s not exactly the same.”
Here are additional topics addressed by Stefanski, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer.
Stefanski on the way teams are covering Thielen and Diggs:
Adam Thielen (105 receptions, 1,255 yards, nine touchdowns) and Stefon Diggs (92 receptions, 964 yards, seven touchdowns) have formed quite the duo for the Vikings.
Diggs was unable to play against the Lions in Week 9, so Detroit was able to place extra attention on Thielen, who was limited to four receptions and 22 yards that game, ending his NFL-record eight-game streak of games with 100-plus receiving yards.
Teams of late, particularly New England and Seattle, found success in double-teaming both players.
Thielen did beat a double team by twins Jason and Devin McCourty for a touchdown against the Patriots, but the offense hit speed bumps that day and against the Seahawks, combining for 17 points.
Stefanski was asked what can be done against a double team or if the ball just needs to go elsewhere.
“At times you are going to try to get them open,” Stefanski said. “At times you are going to say, ‘Listen, there’s one football, and someone else is going to win.’
“There is a bunch of different aspects and a bunch of different ways to attack that, and certainly when we have the skill guys when we have, I understand defenses that try to do that,” he added, “but then it’s our job to get in the meeting room upstairs and draw up some plays that don’t completely take our guys out of it but that allow us to have some success, particularly on third down.”
Edwards on the Vikings 10-sack game against the Lions in Week 9:
The onslaught began in the second quarter and was relentless.
The Vikings sacked Lions QB Matthew Stafford 10 times by the end of the day when the teams last met on Nov. 4.
Minnesota’s defense has 34 sacks of Stafford in nine games under Edwards, including seven in a game in 2015 and six in a game in 2016. Edwards was asked about the most recent performance that set a franchise record.
“I think it was a combination of things,” Edwards said. “I think our guys do a great job on the back end with what we’re doing coverage-wise. We sort of had him uncomfortable, they had just lost [Golden] Tate, who had been a go-to guy for Stafford. I think that was also a part of the equation, but credit goes to our front being disciplined in their rush lanes, not getting too high in their rush and not allowing him to escape out of the pocket.”
Edwards on how the Lions have been moving around receiver Kenny Golladay:
Second-year Lions receiver Kenny Golladay had three catches for 46 yards in Week 9 against the Vikings.
The Lions have tried to implement Golladay in a variety of ways since Marvin Jones, Jr., landed on Injured Reserve with a knee injury in Week 10.
In six games with Jones out of the lineup, Golladay has averaged 5.2 receptions and 80.3 yards per game.
“They’ve done a great job of moving him around. You’ve seen his statistics have really jumped up, and he’s got a very good catch radius,” Edwards said. “I think they trust him in the passing game and are going to him quite a bit. He and [Theo Riddick] both are catching a lot of balls right now.”
Priefer on being aggressive during punt returns
There have been times when the Vikings felt like they’ve been close to breaking the big one on special teams this season.
Marcus Sherels was able to pop free and take advantage of Matt Haack outkicking the Dolphins coverage. Priefer said Sherels did a great job of tracking the ball’s flight path and capitalizing on the extra room at the beginning of his run. The reward for the Vikings was a 70-yarder that Priefer said nearly went the distance.
There also might have been a couple of instances of Sherels calling for a fair catch but may have been able to make an opponent miss. Sherels has averaged 12.0 yards on 23 punt returns and called for 15 fair catches. He has six punt returns of 20 or more yards.
“We’re typically pretty aggressive, anyway. I just think Coach Zimmer talked about the spark our football team needed and talking to Marcus about being maybe a little bit more aggressive. That one there was an easy one, there was no one in his face.
“What we’ve talked about is some of the fair catches have been close where maybe you could have made that guy miss, maybe not,” Priefer added. “Ball possession is still the number one thing we’re supposed to do on kickoff and punt return, and when he makes decisions on punt return to fair catch the ball that’s going to be close rather than taking a shot and maybe possibly losing the ball. If he airs on the side of caution, sometimes I’m OK with that, as well. I’m pretty aggressive by nature anyway, as is Marcus. We put it all together last Sunday, it was a good game for us.”
Priefer on getting help from the defense:
Priefer was asked if indoor games are particularly helpful for punt returners and said yes, but he pointed out that controlled conditions can help punting as well.
“I think the thing that really helped us Sunday that a lot of people overlook is our defense did such a good job pinning our opponent deep, so now they’re fourth-and-18, they’re fourth-and-20, they’re fourth-and-22, and that allows us to make a call where you can double both gunners, and when you can double both gunners in this league you’ve got a chance.
“Where we get the fair catches is that we’re not allowed to be as aggressive when we just single press on one gunner and we have to have seven or eight in the box because it’s fourth-and-4 instead of fourth-and-20,” he continued. “I have to be more conservative with our calls, obviously, so we don’t give up a fake. So, because it was great complementary football — I know we talk about that a lot — our offense did a great job moving the ball, we’d punt them deep or whatever, our defense would get a sack or two, now it’s fourth-and-20, we’d go double vice and get a big play. So that’s a great formula for success for our football team.”