The Minnesota Vikings made a push to the playoffs last year, but fell short, at least in part because of their vanilla playbook and poor quarterback play. But the potential for a big 2009 exists, and thanks to the return of E.J. Henderson and the draft of Percy Harvin, some exciting options open up for the Viking’s playbook.
Here’s a look at six plays (three on offense, three on defense) that the Vikings should consider to add some flavor to their stagnant playbook, and make the most use out of these two top players:
The Wildcat Formation
The Wildcat Formation
The NFL is a copycat league, and the Miami Dolphins had tremendous success last season running plays out of the Wildcat. But the Vikings have talent even more suited to the formation than the Dolphins.
The Vikings have been looking for ways to feature both Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and with Percy Harvin as a third option, Minnesota can push the formation in many different ways.
Remember, Harvin is just as capable a running back as he is a receiver, more so, in some areas. But the Wildcat really allows him to take advantage of his ability to work free in a crowd and create plays.
Additionally, Tarvaris Jackson is quick and athletic enough to run the Wildcat option sweep or come in as an extra receiver. That’s not to suggest that Jackson be the Viking’s starting quarterback next season, but for 7-8 plays per game, he can be a valuable asset.
In fact, that’s a pretty perfect description of the Wildcat. It is not the offensive solution, it is a great asset for teams that have the personnel to run it 7-8 plays a game, which the Vikings certainly do.
There’s no doubt that the Vikings drafted Percy Harvin to make plays, but to do that they need to find as many ways as possible to get him the ball. One of the quickest ways to put the ball in Harvin’s hand is in a bubble screen.
Now the Vikings, like every team in the NFL, have employed some form of the wide receiver screen for the past several seasons, with somewhat limited results. It takes a certain type of receiver to run the bubble just right, and Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade just don’t fit that mold.
Like Carolina’s Steve Smith, Harvin’s short stature allows him to work well in traffic. Part of the execution of the bubble screen is getting the ball out to the receiver in the crowd and letting him slide out into the open field, something is Harvin is made for.
The Vikings are actually in perfect position to apply the bubble this season, because teams will have to respect Harvin and Berrian’s ability to stretch the field, and also stack nine in the box to protect against Adrian Peterson. A quick chip by Sidney Rice and Berrian would provide Harvin exactly enough space to break a nice run a few times per game.
Play action seems like an obvious choice for the Vikings playbook. There aren’t too many teams whose running game is more threatening than Minnesota’s, and teams have to respect the look, even if it is just a fake.
However, except for a few big plays last season, the Vikings haven’t been able to effectively put the play action into effect. The Cross Buck, however, has the potential to put the ball into the hands of four of the Vikings top playmakers.
The Cross Buck begins with two running back fakes. The first, to Nafahu Tahi wouldn’t be much of a fake, but would at least get the defense flowing towards the ball, a second fake to Adrian Peterson might actually be a real handoff depending on how the defense reacts.
Then the rest of the offense rolls the opposite direction, with Berrian and Harvin streaking up field and Visanthe Schaincoe coming open underneath. All three of those guys are capable of making big plays, and Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson are both good enough athletes to roll out after the run fake and get the ball to them.
Defense The Three-”Faux”
The 3-4 is the en vogue defense in the NFL this year, with a lot of teams trying to emulate the success that Baltimore and San Diego have had with the formation. And there’s something to be said for it. It’s an excellent run defense, and it does a great job of freeing up edge rushers.
The 3-4 has its flaws, however, and for a lot of teams it doesn’t work as a base formation. You need a huge, space-eating nose tackle, two unselfish defensive ends, and four linebackers who can cover the run and pass equally well.
Not many teams have the personnel to run the 3-4 full time, but the Vikings have the ability to run it a few plays a game. Pat Williams is a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle, and Jared Allen has shown the athleticism to drop back and cover the flats.
Really, however, the formation would be in the playbook to free up the linebackers to make more athletic plays. The Vikings have had a lot of trouble covering the middle of the field while also putting consistent pressure on the quarterback.
The Vikings staff needs to start opening up the playbook more to allow Henderson to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. If they could mix up their blitz packages and coverage schemes a few plays per game, it would be that much harder to game plan for the Viking D.
In the Viking’s Tampa Two scheme, the safeties aren’t asked to do much, just stay downfield and make sure that nothing gets past them. It was the source of quite a bit of frustration for Darren Sharper when he was there, and it must irk Maddieu Williams, who is a good cover safety, as well.
The idea of the Sky coverage is to let the safeties cover the underneath passes while the corners work on the deep and intermediate routes.
Since the Vikings implemented the Tampa Two in 2006 the pass that has consistently beat them isn’t the deep bomb or fade, it’s been short, quick passes that players like Williams and Tyrell Johnson are more than capable of helping defend.
Additionally, this frees up the linebackers a handful more plays per game to pursue the ball. Ben Leber is mediocre in pass coverage, and Henderson and Greenway are better in pursuit than they are preventing plays from developing. Henderson is at his best when he’s attacking, not sitting in a zone waiting for the play to develop towards him.
Again, just as with the 3-4, the scheme is not meant to supplant Minnesota’s base defense, just keep the opposition off guard. If they can’t count on the safeties dropping back twenty yards on every play, the receiver progressions change, which gives the quarterback less time to make his reads and the defensive line and linebackers more time to get to him.
Of all the things that Brad Childress could’ve stolen from the Eagles, one would hope he would have ended up with more than just Artis Hicks.
Childress spent years on the sidelines watching offenses being bewildered by Jim Johnson’s complex, multi-level blitz packages, and when he comes to Minnesota, he installs one of the most granola defenses in the league.
That’s not to say the Vikings defense isn’t good, they’re one of the best in the league, but they have the talent to be much better than they are. Henderson, Leber, and Greenway are all more than capable blitzers, but they’re not used nearly enough in that capacity.
The Vikings need to use more disguised blitzes and edge rushes to utilize their weapons, especially with defenses focused so heavily on the Williamses and Jared Allen, there’s no reason why Henderson or Greenway couldn’t be coming free on every play.
Now, to be fair, the Vikings tried a few disguised blitzes last year, and they almost uniformly worked. Unfortunately, the guy they had running the blitz was Antoine Winfield. To his credit, Winfield’s blitzes were amazing (2 forced fumbles and a touchdown), but your best cover man isn’t the guy you want to be sending into the backfield regularly.
Teams pass 70 percent of the time they play the Vikings, so the law of averages says that coverage breakdowns are going to happen.
It’s inevitable that Winfield or Cedric Griffin is going to come up a step short or miss an assignment on at least a few of those plays every game, so the idea is to let them settle into zones and force the quarterbacks and offensive line to make their reads faster to account for the blitz, and put the onus on them to make the mistakes.
Besides, nobody’s going to blame Childress for lifting a play or two out of his old team’s playbook if they work, and to be honest, the Vikings have better players in the front seven than the Eagles do to make the zone blitz work in 2009.