How Vikings OC Pat Shurmur Has Beaten Cover 1

How Vikings OC Pat Shurmur Has Beaten Cover 1

Vikings Barroom Assistant Editor Drew Mahowald takes a deep look at how Minnesota Vikings interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has beaten Cover 1 the past few weeks.

Limited.

That’s probably the best word to describe the Minnesota Vikings offense through the first 12 weeks of the 2016 season.

Minnesota is dealing with all kinds of injuries along its offensive line. In particular, four starters (Mike Harris, Matt Kalil, Andre Smith, Jake Long) have been lost to season-ending injuries. Meanwhile, TJ Clemmings, Jeremiah Sirles and Willie Beavers have all struggled to fill in those respective roles.

The depleted offensive line has contributed to what is on pace to be one of the worst rushing attacks of all-time. At just 2.8 yards per carry, the Vikings have the worst mark since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

Combine these elements with an immobile quarterback and former offensive coordinator Norv Turner and now interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur have had to rely on a quick-hitting passing game to move down the field.

The Minnesota Vikings’ passing attack has been far from elite in 2016. According to Pro Football Reference, Minnesota sits at 24th in passing yards per game (223.8) and 20th in yards per attempt (7.0). While quarterback Sam Bradford is on pace to complete 71.3 percent of his passes, which would be second-highest in NFL history, it has not translated into big offense.

Big plays in the passing game have been hard to come by for the Vikings in recent weeks. But when they have popped up, there have been some striking similarities between the offensive and defensive concepts used.

Throughout the season, Bradford has shown a knack for being able to locate passes perfectly on fade routes down the field — he just hasn’t had time to do so. However, when the defense presents a Cover 1 press look, Bradford has exploited it time and time again with the help of Shurmur utilizing a Smash Fade concept.

The concept is designed to burn both Cover 1 and Cover 0 zone coverage schemes. Coincidentally, Minnesota’s big plays have taken advantage of Cover 1 the past few weeks, but an aggressive man blitz is also very vulnerable to the Smash-Fade.

In Minnesota’s Week 10 loss at Washington, Bradford hooked up with Stefon Diggs for a 36-yard gain. Diggs spent nearly all game in the slot, presumably to set up this exact scenario.

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Washington defensive coordinator Joe Barry employs a Cover 1 look with cornerbacks in press-man and one single-high safety. Bradford sent Asiata in motion to the right slot in order to confirm the man look.

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Diggs, in the left slot matched up with rookie Kendall Fuller, takes off on his fade route. Cordarrelle Patterson, lined up wide left, stays put to pull his defender away from the fade and allow Bradford ample room to make an accurate throw.

just-after-snap

Bradford uses his eyes to freeze the high safety just long enough to allow enough space for a high-percentage throw. Diggs’ explosiveness off the line gets him past Fuller with relative ease, and Bradford delivers an absolute dime for a 36-yard gain.

The quick-hitting Smash-Fade works well for Shurmur in this offense for a number of reasons. First of all, the concept fits perfectly with regard to how the West Coast principles embedded in Shurmur’s scheme intend to stretch the field. Secondly, it hides Minnesota’s horrid weakness pass protection issues, allowing Bradford to get rid of the ball quickly. And, since the fade is ran out of the slot, both Bradford and his receiver have more room for error as opposed to the same route ran alongside the boundary.

Minnesota’s first scoring play against Arizona in Week 11 was a replica of this concept. Bradford again motioned Matt Asiata out of the backfield, not only to confirm the man coverage, but also to essentially remove Deone Bucannon — one of Arizona’s most versatile weapons in coverage — from the play.

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Arizona rolls with a single-high safety and tight man coverage across the board — the literal definition of Cover 1. Bradford eyes the high safety and keeps him guessing for a brief period of time while the linebacker gives Diggs an extra jam off the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Adam Thielen has more than enough time to get off the line of scrimmage and put himself in a favorable one-on-one situation.

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Again, the quick-hitting style of this Smash-Fade concept hides Minnesota’s weak pass protection. On the outside, Asiata’s drag route modifies the concept a tad, but the idea of pulling the defender completely away from the fade route stands true.

Bradford’s pinpoint accuracy on these fade routes is shown, and he places the pass in a perfect position which allows Thielen to make an outstanding catch and capture an early Vikings lead.

A slightly modified version of this concept was used in Detroit on Thanksgiving for what wound up being Bradford’s only successful pass attempt that traveled at least 15 yards through the air.

Detroit comes out disguising its Cover 1 by lining up with two deep safeties — showing either Cover 2 or 2-Man with textbook nickel personnel. Shurmur counters with two receivers lined up to the right and a pair of tight ends attached to the left side of the offensive line.

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Once again, Bradford motions the running back out of the backfield and Jerick McKinnon pulls a defender with him, effectively revealing man-to-man coverage. Bradford also recognizes that the nickel cornerback is blitzing, which he quickly translates to Thielen being matched up with a safety out of the slot. Simply, Bradford figured out Detroit’s disguise and rapidly diagnosed a Cover 1 defensive look with a nickel cornerback blitzing off the edge.

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McKinnon stays put out wide to pull his man away from the vertical routes down the field. Bradford then recognizes the mismatch between 6’5″, 250-pound Rhett Ellison and 6’0″, 200-pound Tavon Wilson in a one-on-one situation and launches yet another deep fade route for 21 yards.

Minnesota’s passing attack hasn’t been prolific by any means this season, and there are many reasons for this. But, Shurmur’s installation of the Smash-Fade has given the Vikings a go-to strategy for beating Cover 1 and Cover 0 looks — and it has resulted in a significant gainer nearly every time.

Moving forward, it should be expected that defenses will resort to more zone coverage to prevent this type of big play from happening — especially given that Minnesota’s offensive line more than likely won’t be able to hold up against a simple four-man pass-rush.

However, if defenses attempt to continue defending Pat Shurmur and Co. with Cover 1 looks, the Vikings are readily equipped to win that battle.

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Drew Mahowald

Drew Mahowald

Drew Mahowald is a student at Saint John's University (MN) pursuing a degree in media communications and a career in sports media. In addition to serving as an assistant editor at the Barroom, Drew also writes about the Minnesota Timberwolves for OnTheProwlMN.com. You can follow Jim Kleinsasser's #1 fan on Twitter at @DrewMahowald.


Tags assigned to this article:
Minnesota Vikingspat shurmurSam Bradford

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