Trends in the Trenches: Breaking Down the Minnesota Vikings

Trends in the Trenches: Breaking Down the Minnesota Vikings

Credit: Getty Images

Christian Ponder #7 of the Minnesota Vikings looks for an open receiver during an NFL game against the Cleveland Browns at Mall of America Field, on September 22, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)



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Posted on October 30, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 31 at 5:11 AM

The Cowboys aren’t going to run into many offenses as poor as that of the Minnesota Vikings. Outside of running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have little offensive firepower.

Veteran wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson aren’t exactly lighting it up, and rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has underachieved. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has historically been outstanding in the red zone, has just 278 total yards and two touchdowns after the first half of the season.

For Dallas, it all comes down to stopping A.P. To help them along the way, here are a few suggestions I have after studying Minnesota.

Blitz. A lot.

We’re not really sure who will start at quarterback for the Vikings—Josh Freeman or Christian Ponder—but both have been horrific against the blitz (five or more rushers). Using data at Pro Football Focus, I charted the passer rating for each quarterback against the blitz in 2013. Freeman’s numbers extend back to his time in Tampa Bay.

Neither Freeman nor Ponder have been able to compile a passer rating above 60.6 when defenses send more than four rushers.

The numbers are even worse when you consider their completion percentages.

Freeman and Ponder have both completed less than 42 percent of their passes against the blitz. There’s no reason Monte Kiffin shouldn’t send blitzes early and often in Week 9.

Get conservative near the red zone.

Take a look at the length of the touchdowns scored by Dallas (blue) and Minnesota (purple).

The Vikings have had three touchdowns of at least 60 yards, two of which were courtesy of Peterson. Otherwise, the majority of the Vikings’ touchdowns have come between just outside the red zone and just inside the 10-yard line. Even with Peterson, the Vikings have only one touchdown under four yards all year. The Cowboys have seven.

When you look at the Vikings’ roster, you see one player who stands out inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Because of his size, Rudolph is a dynamic red zone threat. That means the Cowboys should play ultra-aggressively in most areas of the field, focusing on Peterson at all times and Rudolph in the red zone.

Stack the left side of the defense.

Most offenses are “right-handed” in that they run more to the right side of the field than the left, but the Vikings are the most extreme case I’ve seen. Peterson loves to run to the right, and they continue to feed him the ball running that direction.

I charted the direction of the Vikings’ 2013 runs and who was at the point-of-attack. You can see a disproportionate amount of runs have come up the middle or to the right. That means Minnesota will be running right at defensive end George Selvie and the left side of the Cowboys’ D.

If Kiffin decides to stack the box, which he should, he should consider dropping safety Barry Church down on the left side of the defense to either combat Peterson on that side or force Minnesota to run left.