If the New Orleans Saints can take away the Vikings big plays off play-action and bootlegs, they will suffocate them as the Vikings can’t reliably have success by dropping back.
Stop their play-action and you stop their offense. Dennis Allen and the rest of the New Orleans Saints’ defensive coaching staff will have focused intensely on how to defend against the Vikings’ play-action game. However, this is easier said than done.
There are generally two reasons teams use play-action more: to help out their offensive line and to give easier reads and throwing lanes for their quarterback. Both reasons apply to the Vikings, so it’s no coincidence that they use play-action a ton compared to other teams.
The Vikings do an excellent job of disguising play-action, making it almost impossible for the defense to tell until the last moment. “You have to be very disciplined with your pre-snap reads because they make it look identical,” Chargers’ head coach Anthony Lynn said, before their week 15 matchup.
As I was watching the Vikings more in-depth over the last couple of days, the thing that stood out most was the similarities between their offense and the 49ers’ under Kyle Shanahan.
Gary Kubiak, the Vikings assistant head coach and offensive adviser, was instrumental in the zone running scheme implemented by Mike Shanahan. Kubiak has brought a very similar scheme to the Vikings and their offense revolves around it.
Two other teams that use play-action heavily are the 49ers and the Rams, whose coaches both come from the Shanahan coaching tree. This isn’t coincidental as the zone run game complements the play-action and bootleg game nicely.
Cousins does a pretty good job of throwing the ball on the run, one of the keys of using bootlegs effectively.
The Vikings have a very extensive screen game, which they use frequently, and they sometimes use play-action screens and even bootleg throwback screens.
The Vikings like to use play-action in short-yardage situations.
On this play, they fake a power O run, which is where the backside guard pulls and acts as a lead blocker and the rest of the offensive line blocks downwards towards the backside. The pulling guard and the short-yardage situation sell the run.
On this one, they fake both a jet sweep and a handoff to Dalvin Cook, and they manage to get Kyle Rudolph isolated on an LB.
After scoring a touchdown off a run to the outside on the previous play, the Vikings fake another outside run on the two-point conversion. The linebackers bite hard, while the cornerback freezes, giving Cousins a good matchup.
These three plays are a good illustration of what the Vikings want to do in short-yardage situations: use play-action and target Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings like to mesh their play-action and runs. The following two play sequence provides a good illustration of this:
The Vikings rank sixth in explosive pass plays, according to sharpfootballstats. This is surprising as they rarely look to drop back and pass downfield, which is mainly because of their weak offensive line.
However, when you watch their tape you’ll see that pretty much all of their explosive plays come off play-action and screens, and sometimes even play-action screens!
The following examples illustrate this:
The Vikings essentially use a Yankee/burner concept, which is a two-route combination that consists of a post and an over route from opposite directions.
The play is usually designed to vacate space for the over route and is used a lot off of play-action and bootlegs. The Saints use it and variations of the concept to get Thomas isolated, and sometimes even wide open.
Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings tight end, illustrates how sometimes the over route can get wide open as the safeties are cleared out by the post. This play also illustrates how play-action usually makes things easier on the O-line and QB as neither had to do much on this play.
The Broncos use cover 1 hole, which is a safety playing zone in the deep middle and a LB playing zone in the underneath middle, and man coverage across the board.
Stefon Diggs, the Vikings top receiver (due to Adam Thielen’s injury), wins his one-on-one matchup and gets wide open- by NFL terms- on his post route. Even though it travels about 40 yards in the air, it was another pretty straight forward pass for Cousins.
This play is very similar to the last one. The Vikings run a flood/sail concept. The flood/sail concept is designed to beat zone coverages. The Lions play cover 1 hole, and thus flood/sail was not a great play call and none of the three receivers were able to gain separation.
Cousins works his way back across the field and finds Adam Thielen coming open on a post.