EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings started well in each of their past two road games by mixing, matching and matriculating on opening possessions.
Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo has implemented multiple personal groupings, formations and pre-snap movements.
Minnesota drove 75 yards in 13 plays and 7:05 at Los Angeles, capping its first opportunity against the Rams with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Aldrick Robinson.
The Vikings used personnel groupings of 12 (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers), 11 (one running back, one tight end, three receivers), 21 (two running backs [including fullback C.J. Ham], one tight end, two receivers) and 22 (two running backs, two tight ends, one receiver). Minnesota also had running backs line up as receivers during the drive.
Last week, Minnesota began the game at Philadelphia by driving 65 yards on 12 plays in 6:20. The possession didn't yield points after stalling at the Eagles 10-yard line. It did, however, help the Vikings flip field position and give the Eagles plenty to think about.
The Vikings used 12, 21 and 11 groupings in a variety of ways and had a significant number of pre-snap motions last week as DeFilippo went against the team for which he coached quarterbacks from 2016-17.
DeFilippo explained that multiple benefits can accompany keeping defenses off balance.
"Number one, it tells you kind of how they are going to play each personnel grouping," DeFilippo said. "Now, it doesn't mean they have to stay that way the whole game. But how are they going to handle 20 personnel (two running backs, three receivers, no tight ends)? How are they going to handle 11 (one running back, three receivers, one tight end) when we have a certain tight end on the field?"
DeFilippo added that the information gleaned from a way that an opponent plays a certain grouping can come in handy "later in the game when you have other plays out of those personnel groupings."
It also gets players involved early.
"I like to get everyone involved. I think everyone, five games in, I guess, I think everyone sees offensively we spread the ball around," DeFilippo said. "We like to get everybody involved. I think that helps us overall because you can't just hone in on one person or one concept we're running."
In addition to making plays, Cousins is tasked with staying on top of the moving parts and making sure things are enacted smoothly.
"We want to get our best players doing what they do well, and we don't want to give defenses a tell of what's coming, and there's a variety of ways to do that," Cousins said. "You can certainly think through personnel and how to be smart with it. When you plan out your first 15 [plays], typically for a game, you do tend to think quite a bit about personnel. Substituting is a very important part of the game, substituting with efficiency, doing it quickly, getting in and out so I have time at the line of scrimmage with the play clock and making sure our coaching staff and players communicate well on the sideline so that players can get in there quickly, and that's no small part of playing football."
Cousins' first pass of the day in Philadelphia went to David Morgan, who has been heavily involved when the Vikings use multiple tight ends, for a quick, easy gain of 5.
The next play was an immediate pass to Stefon Diggs for a quick gain of 7 that was followed by a dropback with play-action on Cousins' fade-away pass to Adam Thielen for a gain of 24.
Thielen leads the NFL with 47 receptions and ranks second with 589 yards. Diggs has 37 receptions for 402 yards and Kyle Rudolph has 23 catches for 229 yards. After totaling 21 receptions in his first two seasons, Laquon Treadwell already has 15 catches for 142 yards this season.
Minnesota has eight players who have at least five receptions through five games.
"Flip does a great job of putting a lot of people in positions to be successful, and he prides himself on that," Morgan said. "We're able to disguise a lot of different things that we do well by just putting people in different positions and different motions and things like that. At the end of the day, the NFL runs a lot of the same plays. Everyone runs plays that works, but we do a good job of disguising those plays and making them look just a little bit different to kind of keep those defenses off guard."
The Vikings want to be able to do multiple things out of the many different groupings, or better yet, force a defense to make a commitment and counteract it.
"Most teams match their defense to the offense," fullback C.J. Ham said. "If you're in 12 personnel, 11 personnel, they might be in a smaller front. If you're in 21, they might bring in bigger guys, so just to be able to run all of our same plays out of different personnels helps us exploit different parts of the defense."
Ham's ability to run, block, catch and run after the catch has been helpful, whether the Vikings line up in the I formation or send the running back convert down the line of scrimmage.
"I'm glad I've been able to earn the coaches' trust and be out there in all of the different formations," Ham said.
Morgan said versatility is important, and DeFilippo encourages to "learn the scheme of the overall picture of a play" rather than only positional responsibilities.
"I think that's kind of been our mindset going into stuff – you can get plugged into anywhere on any given route, play, run, whatever it is, and do your job," Morgan said. "I think that's what's been beneficial to us, is having a lot of different people step up."