Vikings know NFL offenses have been flummoxing defenses

November 16, 2018 GMT

The third game of George Ilokas NFL career came on Sept. 23, 2012, when the Bengals traveled to FedEx Field to take on the Redskins and what had become the leagues most talked-about offense, with Robert Griffin III running the zone-read scheme that took the league by storm that season.

Griffin ran for 74 yards and a touchdown that day, but was sacked five times and lost one of his three fumbles as the Bengals with a defense helmed by coordinator Mike Zimmer prevailed 38-31.

Ilokas seven years in the league and especially the 2andfrac12; hes spent with Zimmer likely inform a bit of his nonchalance when presented with the leagues latest set of avant-garde offensive ideas, which will be personified by the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.

Ten years, 15 years ago, the Wildcat was popular when Miami ran it, Iloka said. Zone reads, [run-pass options], yada yada yada. Whatever the fad is. As an offense, you can only work on so much. So when things work in the league, a lot of teams copy it. Defenses find ways to stop it, and they move to something else.

Be that as it may, the moment is now for the offense popularized by the Kansas City Chiefs and the disciples of coach Andy Reid, including Bears coach Matt Nagy and Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who incorporated some of the Chiefs concepts in Philadelphia and passed them along to Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. When the Vikings play the Bears on Sunday night, theyll have to be ready for a voluminous playbook that will move players all over the field, take advantage of quarterback Mitchell Trubiskys mobility and seek to confuse defenders with motion and misdirection.

Then, in whats being billed as the game of the year on Monday night, Reids Chiefs will take on the Rams, coached by Sean McVay, who cut his teeth in the Redskins offense when Griffin was there before working with Kirk Cousins. The NFLs newest offensive concepts might not really be all that new many of them have been popularized by teams looking for college-style offenses compatible with their young quarterbacks, and Reids adaptation has been inspired by Texas AMs Kliff Kingsbury but theyre the talk of the league right now because defenses have yet to find a consistent answer for them.

I dont know if its as much [because of young QBs] as everyone thinks it is but there is some, theres no doubt, DeFilippo said. What you are seeing less in the NFL is two-back football. You are seeing 12 personnel [one running back, two tight ends]. You are still seeing 11 personnel. To run the football [with] 11 personnel, you have to have an answer for that seventh guy in the box. I think thats where a lot of this started and getting creative: How do we just block that seventh guy if they are going to load the box on us?

It is a single-safety [in the] middle [of the field] league. Unless you are on third-and-long, theres very little two-high [safety defense], except some of those corners-pressed teams where the safeties are basically behind linebacker depth. This is a single-safety middle league now. You have to account for that extra player and that is kind of how it started. Some of the RPO world, some of the, Leave a guy unblocked and you read him, I think a lot of it has trickled up because some of the things of the guys in college are doing, and also because this league has turned into a single-safety middle league.

Many of the Vikings struggles early this season came against McVays Rams and Kyle Shanahans 49ers. Now, after a five-game stretch in which they allowed just 18.8 points per game (albeit against some lesser lights like the Cardinals, Jets and Lions), the Vikings will get to see if their defensive improvements can hold up to much of what they saw early in the season.

Chicago is Andy Reid and Doug Pedersons offense, said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, who spent seven years in the league as a safety. Therell be a lot of movement. Therell be guys like Tarik Cohen, who go in jet motion and different formations, and a tight end in Trey Burton who can line [up] anywhere on the field. Theyll use 21 personnel, which is two running backs in the game, and its going to be two tailbacks itll be Jordan Howard and Cohen. Theyll do different things to try to gain a pre-snap advantage, one that helps the young quarterback in Trubisky, but also give them an opportunity to create some open windows.

Said Iloka: Theyre going to try to wheel some guys. Theyre going to try to sneak guys through the zone [in coverage], or put two into the same zone and try to pull one out. Youll have some RPOs, youll have some zone reads. I guess the focus is the same [as the Rams and 49ers], but schematically, its a little bit different.

So how do the Vikings succeed this time where they came up short earlier in the season? The first key might be with their pass rush.

Now that Everson Griffen is back, and Stephen Weatherly has asserted himself as a key member of the Vikings pass rush, the team has three effective defensive ends who can stay fresh enough to continue pressuring quarterbacks late in games. Nine of the Vikings 10 sacks against the Lions came from their defensive front, with only one from Mackensie Alexander coming when the Vikings needed to blitz.

If they can rush with four [guys], they can play quarters [coverage] against the Bears, Bowen said. They can play two-deep against the Bears. They can play Cover-3 and match to the inside seam, to take away those seam balls Trubisky wants to hit. And against a young quarterback, I would expect the pressure count to rise a little bit. Id try to throw some different things at Trubisky and try to steal one.

Coach Mike Zimmer said this week, with only a hint of facetiousness in his voice, that the Bears have 800 [plays] for every game, and the Vikings know theyll see some things on Sunday that didnt show up on film.

Its there where theyll lean on their ability to adjust. And its there where Iloka doesnt seem worried.

Even when a team gets you on a good play, they wont get you [multiple times], he said. Especially the coaches here theyll see it, and theyll be like, All right this is what were going to do. A team might get one or two plays here and there off something you might not have seen, or a good adjustment by them, but then you adjust back.