John DeFilippo is a bright offensive mind and he might someday become a great offensive coordinator, but something had to change for the Minnesota Vikings.
After being shut down on national TV in Seattle, the Vikings dropped to 6-6-1 in large part because of the 20th ranked scoring offense. They nearly went six quarters without a score — a streak that was only ended by a garbage-time touchdown at the end of Monday night’s loss.
The Vikings offense never seemed to find its groove the way it did in 2017. They put together some strong performances early against Green Bay and Los Angeles, but were also shut down in an embarrassing loss to the Buffalo Bills and still saw long stretches of ineptitude against some of the league’s worst teams in Arizona, New York and Detroit.
In a Sunday night win over Green Bay, it seemed the Vikings solved many of their biggest problems. They ran successfully at times, found talented running back Dalvin Cook on a screen touchdown, threw to Kyle Rudolph effectively and created one-on-one match ups for Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
But everything came apart the last two weeks. DeFilippo was out-schemed badly by New England head coach Bill Belichick, who confused the Vikings offense by not tipping his hand pre-snap and then the Seahawks shut down repeated efforts by the Vikings on normally-convertible third downs. They went 2-for-7 on third downs with less than four yards to go. Seattle also took Thielen and Diggs out of the game on key passing situations by double teaming them, which seemed to leave the Vikings offense baffled.
By the end of Monday night’s game, Thielen and Diggs were showing their frustration and Mike Zimmer was out of answers.
Zimmer had been pushing for weeks for changes but the lack of progress only left one button to push. He can’t change quarterbacks or offensive lines or sign a No. 3 receiver who can get open on third down. He can only try a new offensive coordinator.
Kevin Stefanski probably should have been given the OC job last offseason. After all, he’s spent the last 13 years as a position coach and played an integral role in maximizing the talents of Case Keenum.
For whatever reason, the Vikings values DeFilippo’s role in helping Nick Foles more than Stefanski’s with Keenum.
Now we can expect to see shades of Pat Shurmur, the Vikings’ 2017 OC who guided them to a top 10 scoring offense despite the loss of his quarterback, running back and injuries on the offensive line.
Much has been made of Zimmer’s request to run the ball more often, but the volume of runs isn’t as important as using the team’s most dynamic player with the ball in more effective ways.
Over the last two weeks, Dalvin Cook has gained just 50 yards through the air on 13 catches.
A return to the outside running scheme seems inevitable as well. Throughout the year the Vikings have continually run up the middle behind their two struggling guards without any success to be found.
Most importantly Stefanski has a chance to adopt Shurmur’s mentality of making the offense more of a collaborative effort. Players raved about Shurmur’s interest in their opinions when it came to gameplans. Kirk Cousins and Stefanski have been working closely together this year and should have the ability to communicate and work more toward Cousins’ strengths and preferences. Diggs and Thielen are highly intelligent football minds and should have a voice in decisions. It doesn’t appear that they had the same type of influence this year that they did under Shurmur.
While an OC change at this point in the game may seem like a panicked move, there is precedent. In 2012 the Ravens fired Cam Cameron in favor of Jim Caldwell. They went on to put together one of the best performances by a quarterback in postseason history and win the Super Bowl.
The way the Vikings defense is playing, an offensive turnaround could give them a chance to achieve the goals they set out to accomplish in training camp. They allowed just 72 yards passing to Russell Wilson and only six points late into the fourth quarter. The defense has repeatedly given the Vikings a shot to win big games, including against the Saints and Patriots.
Certainly Stefanski isn’t a cure-all. The offensive line is still going to limit what the Vikings can do on offense, but in order to have a shot the Vikings don’t have to be elite on offense, just effective. They haven’t been anywhere close to effective lately.
Zimmer picked the right week to make a change. The Vikings come back home against a competitive, but not great, Dolphins team. They need to prove a winning team can be defeated in order to avoid a complete season meltdown.
Before Tuesday, nothing pointed to a turnaround. Now at least there is a chance.