Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia is impressed by the Vikings use of their tight ends this season.
Patricia is plenty familiar with veteran Kyle Rudolph, who signed an extension with Minnesota during the offseason and has made a significant impact in his ninth season in Purple.
Rudolph took on a less-flashy role to start the 2019 campaign, having a heavier role in blocking and lighter involvement in the passing game. Vikings fans have seen his responsibilities evolve, however, particularly in the absence of Adam Thielen, who was injured in Week 7.
In the past six games, Rudolph has recorded 24 catches for 229 yards and six touchdowns.
"I'm not surprised, because he's a really good player," Patricia said earlier this week of Rudolph's uptick in production. "I think he took that opportunity earlier in the year, where maybe he was doing some other jobs that he hasn't done in previous seasons, and he took that time to really grow in those roles and get better in those roles.
"I think he's actually made himself a better player overall," Patricia added. "I think, in general, all of that has just turned him into a guy that is critically important to their offense and someone that you can really see the quarterback trusts."
Patricia said that the tight end position is a key component of the Vikings offense.
"I think Rudolph is doing a great job," he said. "He's really come a long way."
Patricia emphasized the Vikings use of 12 and 13 personnel with multiple tight ends and the way those packages have helped in the absence of Thielen.
He said that Rudolph and rookie Irv Smith, Jr., have done a good job at supplementing those different personnel groups.
"[The Vikings often use] multiple wide receiver sets and now with multiple tight ends," Patricia explained. "They haven't missed a beat at all. I think, really, they've taken advantage of those opportunities, and they're still using [that] same mentality – they're gonna run the ball, and they're going to use the play-action shots and get the ball downfield, and they have a lot of skill guys that they can do that with."
Patricia spoke highly of Smith, whom Minnesota drafted in the second round.
The Lions head coach said Detroit's staff "really studied" the talented tight end coming out of Alabama.
"I think he's really just done a great job of learning the routes and learning the nuances of man coverage in the NFL," Patricia said. "It's a little bit different than maybe college and what you saw coming out. I think his top-of-the-route movement, and how he is able to kind of create separation and leverage from the man-to-man coverage that he's seeing – a lot of safety, a lot of linebacker coverage that's a little bit different than what he saw before. I think he's doing a great job of it.
"They're putting him in good positions, too," Patricia continued. "They run a lot of the over routes and the sail complements with the three-level patterns on the outside, and he's doing a great job of finding that space in both the zones, and then recognizing the leverage of the man coverage and beating that. That's usually a pretty big part of kind of your first year as a skill player in the NFL. I think he's doing a good job of that."
Here are other highlights from Patricia's sessions with Twin Cities and Detroit-area media members this week:
On the consistency of Cousins' play this season:
"Yeah, I mean consistency would be the biggest thing from that standpoint. I would say they're doing a great job of calling plays that fit right into his strong points. Obviously, the run game sets up a lot for the play-action, and the move-the-pocket sort of plays that they're able to kind of get him out there and get him in space. They have great skill players, they have a lot of speed and he has a strong arm so he can get the ball down the field to those guys, and you see those dynamic plays every single week. I just think he's doing a really good job. They're doing a great job of preparing him every single game and putting him in situations where he can make those plays. Those guys are kind of rallying around it, so I think they're operating at a high level."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.
On Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's coaching style:
"I think Zim' does a great job of just coaching the game, coaching the fundamentals. I would really say, even with their defense this year, going through the games from when we played [in Week 7], before that and then up until now, you can see the fundamental techniques getting better every single week. They obviously have multiple blitz packages, they have different coverage designs, they can play split safety, they can play middle-of-the-field safety, they can match routes – the pattern match is outstanding in that coverage.
"They do a great job of getting after the quarterback, whether it's the four-man rush between [Danielle] Hunter and [Everson] Griffen on the edge, or they're bringing the single pressures with the linebackers or the safeties, either way. They're obviously very productive. Zim' obviously is well known for his double-A gap blitzes and pressures, but there's a lot more to that than just when those two guys walk up inside on the center. So, I think he just does a phenomenal job of coaching those guys."
On the continuity of Minnesota's defensive corps:
"One of the things that makes this defense so good is that they've just had a core group of players that have been in the same system, playing together for a long time – you can really see how they've developed, how they've matured – and the biggest thing about that is you can see the communication. Certainly starting with the linebackers, between [Eric] Kendricks and [Anthony] Barr, how great they are at communicating with each other, getting on the same page, really using that communication with Harrison Smith, get it out to the rest of the secondary as far as what they're going to do in the disguises. I think those are all big parts of it."