Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
An unusual area for praise, to be sure. The Minnesota Vikings coordinators have usually been given grief for their calls rather than praise.
Bill Musgrave, the offensive coordinator, was subject to much ire by the Vikings fanbase. His play and personnel packages were not just bad in 2011; they were awful.
The "Blazer" package wasn't creative in the sense that it would create yardage, but it was certainly unique. The rollouts that Ponder found effective early in his career with the Vikings all but disappeared by the end of the year, and Musgrave didn't often find ways to increase the protection that Christian Ponder desperately needed.
There wasn't much of a theme or offensive consistency, and some of the better weapons the Vikings had were wasted.
This year, Musgrave has found effective personnel sets and has committed to evolving the play package as the season goes on.
While the two-tight end sets that were so well-promoted in the offseason and preseason have been run on less than a third of the offensive snaps, the plays have been designed to take the most advantage of the assets the Vikings have while also hiding its weaknesses.
Nearly every game plan takes into account the defensive tendencies of the opponent, going so far as to find ways to create separation based on the type of zone and man schemes that their opponents have run, placing receivers in space or running them through routes that make ball placement easy for Ponder.
More than that, the Vikings have been establishing tendencies then breaking them at key times, like the play-action wheel routes to Harvin off fake reverses or counters off the lead blocker at the line. These have encouraged Ponder to be efficient and gives the ball to primary playmakers in space.
Musgrave called an excellent game against the 49ers, making sure to take advantage of the outside shading of the man coverage, the well-placed play-action passes and the play-action reverses mentioned above—a play that Musgrave hadn't called before that day.
Along with the return of some personnel packages absent from the Colts game, but evident in the Jaguars game, Musgrave is doing an effective job exploiting the weaknesses of early scouting.
On the other end, Alan Williams has shown himself to be adaptive and diverse in his play-calling. Against the Jaguars, Williams didn't call for a single Cover 2 play on passing downs until late into the first quarter.
The safeties are moving around the field much more and can disguise coverage more effectively than they did under Fred Pagac. The Vikings are willing to move from man coverage to zone coverage and split it evenly against the Colts while playing in more zone coverage against the Jaguars.
The defensive calls include a variety of blitzes from all across the field, and the Vikings have even blitzed different cornerbacks on different plays—to great effect.
They've held off on providing clear signals to what their defensive calls in certain situations will be and have still found a way to maintain the same defensive philosophies the Vikings have established, including an emphasis on keeping receivers underneath the defenders and making sure gang tackling is effective.
While still giving up easy completions, the Vikings are not content to allow much yardage after the catch. Against Alex Smith, the Vikings encouraged the 49ers to play the offensive game that they're comfortable with but without as much success.
Unlike the Lions and the Packers, the Vikings didn't focus too much on Randy Moss, and instead, maintained even coverage across the field. Michael Crabtree didn't get as much room as he has in the past, and the 49ers couldn't seem to find the time to make Vernon Davis consistently effective.
For the first time in a long time, the Vikings didn't give up any points in the fourth quarter and did a better job on third downs (allowing four conversions on 10 tries) than they did in the past two games.
Williams has given Chad Greenway the latitude he needs to be an effective playmaker. He has given the Pro Bowl linebacker a more diverse set of responsibilities while still trusting him in a number of coverage assignments.
Balancing this with Greenway's comfort at Sam linebacker is impressive and something that has helped the Vikings defense look entirely different from last year.