MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been under duress on nearly 40 percent of his drop backs this year according to Pro Football Focus. During Sunday’s 41-17 win over the Miami Dolphins, interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski made a concerted effort to keep Cousins clean.
Heading into the matchup, Cousins had throw 418 passes from the shotgun and just 106 under center. Against the Dolphins it was a rare occurrence to see Cousins in the shotgun as the Vikings used bigger personnel packages with multiple tight ends and fullback CJ Ham while keeping Cousins under center.
“Mixing up different looks to give the defense,” center Pat Elflein said said of the strategy’s effectiveness. “They see he’s under center or different tendencies, you can break those tendencies by doing different stuff like that.”
The Vikings heeded head coach Mike Zimmer’s wishes by focusing on the run game, which picked up over 200 yards against the Dolphins. Elflein said giving the Dolphins a run game to fear made a difference in play-action.
“When you can establish the running game, the play-action can be a little more effective and I think we did that,” Elflein said. “We established a little running game and we were able to hit on some play-actions.”
Getting the run game and play-action going allowed Cousins to roll away from pressure when throwing and otherwise give the ball to playmakers out of the backfield. He only threw 21 passes in the win.
“It was working pretty good,” Zimmer said. “We were hitting five, six yards a carry and, you know, Dalvin Cook is a pretty talented player and when he’s got the ball in his hands, typically good things happen. Latavius Murray is a good, hard, physical running back so I thought all that was good. When you’re running the ball, it sets up play-action passes.”
The Vikings occasionally went with an up-tempo pace, which Cousins mentioned after the loss to New England that he would like to see more no huddle.
“They did a hell of a job,” receiver Stefon Diggs said. “They love it. As far as pushing tempo, firing the ball, they get excited.”
Naturally Stefanski garnered rave reviews following the 41-point explosion. At one time this year the offense was criticized having a high “volume” of plays and concepts. Receiver Adam Thielen said it was simpler but also kept the Dolphins off balance.
“It was simpler but we definitely still had everything that we needed,” Thielen said. “Coach did a great job of keeping the defense on their heels. They didn’t know if it was a run or pass. He let the guys who were playing well take over and carry the offense.”
The Vikings finished the day with only two sacks allowed and a total of 418 yards and 6.6 yards per play.