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Anatomy of a Play

Anatomy of Pat Shurmur's Offense

shurmur-center3-12218.jpg's John Schmeelk takes an X's and O's look at new head coach Pat Shurmur:

When you take a look at Pat Shurmur's offense in Minnesota this past season, you see a few staples. There are west coast principles, but there were also some remnants of what Norv Turner employed in his scheme in 2016.

The result is a varied offense that had success despite an early season change at quarterback.

The Run

Let's start where every good NFL offense starts: the running game. According to STATS, the Vikings had the fifth-highest run percentage in the league this year, running it 47.5 percent of the time. On first and 10 plays, the Vikings ran it 61 percent of the time, the highest percentage in the league.

Of those runs, according to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings ran outside zone 22.5 percent of the time, which was their second most used concept (like most of the league, the Vikings ran inside zone as their predominant run scheme). By comparison, the Giants ran outside zone just 10.1% of the time this year, so that could be a potential change. They design is not the traditional stretch zone play, but instead more off-tackle with the same zone principles.

Here is one such play:


The Vikings ran these types of plays out of several personnel groupings, including a bunch with a single back in the backfield. I decided to feature a red zone run with extra offensive lineman Aviante Collins (XO) lined up outside of the left tackle. He is joined by blocking tight end David Morgan on the line of scrimmage and fullback C.J. Ham in the backfield ready to lead the way for Latavius Murray in an offset I-formation. With the ball on the Bears 14-yard line, the Vikings decide to play old school power football.


The Hand-Off
The Vikings offensive front moves left in unison, and the Bears defense follows suit. Collins and Morgan double-team Sam Acho (#93) with Collins having thoughts of getting to the second level. Ham, the fullback, is going to insert just inside of Collins to engage safety Eddie Jackson (#39). Offensive linemen Joe Berger and Jeremiah Sirles double-team defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (#91). Mike Remmers (#74) is getting to the second level. Rashod Hill has missed his backside block.


Murray has a number of options here since the Vikings have built such a sturdy wall. He can take the run outside and follow Ham, or he can fall in behind Berger and Sirles in front of him. Given that the latter two have completely wiped out Goldman, the choice is fairly easy.


The Cut
This is how you block a running play. Everyone is on a man. Berger has gotten to the second level and blocked linebacker Danny Trevathan. Ham is on Jackson on the second level. Collins has moved on to Prince Amukamara. Murray has cut it inside and now has another two-way option. He moves left, away from safety Adrian Amos (#38).


The Tackle
The two Bears safeties finally get Murray down at the six-yard line.  

Play Action

The second play we'll look at features something Shurmur loves to do: play-action pass. It was especially effective for the Vikings given their high percentage of running plays. According to Pro Football Focus, Case Keenum ran play-action on nearly 29 percent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 111.8 on those plays.

Here is a staple of the Vikings play-action game, bringing a player all the way across the field for a long gain.


The Formation
The Vikings position an extra offensive lineman (Aviante Collins #76) as a tight end off the right side of the formation. Murray is the lone back. Adam Thielin is split out to the left with Stefon Diggs and Jarius Wright tight to the right of the formation. The Saints are in nickel with Vonn Bell playing close to the line of scrimmage.


Play Action
The Vikings run the play-action pass and max protect with their six offensive linemen against the Saints. Despite having the extra lineman in the game, the Saints stay disciplined across the board and do not bite on the run action.


The Routes
The Vikings leave Murray into block, giving them seven protectors against four Saints rushers. It is designed that way since the routes here are very slow to develop. Keenum has a very clean pocket. The Saints linebackers (and Bell) play zone underneath, with the corners in man and a single-high safety over the top. Diggs runs a shallow cross underneath. Wright is crossing the field near the 50-yard line. Thielin is still heading down the field and will soon drag across the field. It is a play-action pass with three crossing routes at three different levels of the defense.


The Throw
At this point of the play, the throw is already 10 yards out of Keenum's hand. With the linebackers underneath helping on Diggs and the safety over the top helping on Thielin, it leaves Saints cornerback P.J. Williams to track Wright all the way across the field. It is a very difficult play to defend for any player. Wright has a yard of separation here.


The Catch
The pass is right on the money over Wright's outside shoulder, good for a 27-yard gain. Despite the fact the Vikings sent just three players into routes against six (or seven, depending out how you count) defenders is a credit to the play design.

Rub Routes

Pat Shurmur's roots in Philadelphia were in the west coast offense. It's an offense that often features plays that make it very difficult to play tight man coverage. Teams utilize rub routes to free their players heading across the field.

Here's an example of one of those plays.


This is actually 12 personnel for the Vikings with their two tight ends bunched with wide receivers on either side of the formation. David Morgan and Thielin are stacked to the right of the formation with Rudolph and Diggs to the left. The Saints are in man-to-man but have Ken Crawley playing off at the top of the screen to prevent a pick within two yards of the line of scrimmage, which is a legal play.


You see at the start of the play why Crawley was in off coverage. His man, Diggs, comes underneath Rudolph to go across the field. If Crawley was pressing up, he would have been screened off his man by Rudolph. He still faces the problem of playing too far off to avoid the initial pick. He has a lot of ground to make up.


Crawley is closing on Diggs, but now he has to deal with Morgan running a shallow cross of his own in his direction. He no longer has a clear path to Diggs.


The ball is on the way to Diggs. Even though Morgan never touches Crawley, his presence forced the cornerback to take a circuitous route and it gives Diggs three yards of separation. You can tell this is the purpose of the play because Jerrick McKinnon is looking back towards Diggs to see if he is getting the ball. Once he has it, McKinnon turns into a blocker.


Run After Catch
Even though Diggs catches this pass just a three yards past the line of scrimmage, he has a lot of green ahead of him with McKinnon blocking in front of him.


The Tackle
A simple drag route becomes a 22-yard game thanks to clever play design, and the play helps shift field position for the Vikings.

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