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Vikings Hope Screen Game Boosts Offense in 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer rarely minces his words, usually taking a straight and honest approach to describe what's on his mind.

That's why Zimmer's assessment of how Minnesota's offense performed in the screen game to running backs in 2016 was so direct.

Zimmer was asked during training camp how he thought the Vikings fared in that department last season. His response?

"Our screens have been awful so that's one of the emphasis we had, was to be better at these screens," Zimmer said. "So far it's looked a lot better."

The Vikings Head Coach isn't wrong. went through each game from the 2016 and looked up completed screen passes to running backs and their productivity.

The results were meager, just three completions for 12 yards. A pair of the screen plays came in the Vikings Week 2 win over Green Bay, meaning the screen game was almost a non-existent part of the offense for almost the entire season.

But with Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur at the helm for his first full season in the role, there's been a noticeable uptick in how often Minnesota went to the screen game during the preseason.

While four games is a small sample size, the Vikings completed five screen passes for 40 yards in their preseason games last month.

There's reason to believe the Vikings offense will go to the deceptive play more often in 2017.

Besides having a younger, more athletic offensive line than in previous years, Minnesota also has a trip of running backs who are more than capable at catching the ball out of the backfield.

Shurmur said during training camp that the Vikings have worked hard to get everyone on the same page with screen plays, and that includes running backs Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.

"I think we put a lot of emphasis on it, but again screens are plays of deception, so they have to think you're doing something else when you hit them," Shurmur said. "It's just like all the elements of the offense, you try to work on it. Some days they look good, some days they don't."

Minnesota's trio of backs have all shown they can excel coming out of the backfield.

Cook had 79 catches for 935 yards and two touchdowns in three seasons at Florida State while Murray had 91 receptions for 639 yards in three seasons in Oakland.

McKinnon was the only back on the roster who was here in 2016 when Shurmur took over as the offensive coordinator after Week 7.

McKinnon had 35 catches over the final nine weeks of the season, which ranked third among running backs. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell and Arizona's David Johnson each had 45 receptions during that span.

Time will tell how successful the Vikings offense is at incorporating the screen game into their gameplans in 2017.

But if there's one thing Zimmer knows aside from being frank, is that the screen can often be the perfect medicine to fool an opposing defense.

"Well it can help a lot," Zimmer said. "No. 1, it gets you out in space with some linemen out in front.

"No. 2, if you're really good at the screens, it tends to slow down the pressures because if (the defense) is running like a zone pressure, there's a chance you have a big play," Zimmer added. "And then the third thing is the defensive linemen start slowing down the rush a little bit. All three of those things are big."

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