FOLLOW-UP: I Watched Every Vikings Wildcat Snap

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen

Back in November, following a Week 11 Minnesota Vikings win over the Arizona Cardinals, I laid out in this space the rationale behind why the Vikings’ Wildcat formation was working and what type of results it was producing.

To jog your memory, the Vikings were generating 5.2 yards per carry using the Wildcat through their first 10 games, and if you included a pass interference penalty on a Wildcat pass in the Arizona game, the per play average got bumped up to 6.8 — a robust average.

The Vikings’ bread and butter out of the Wildcat was a direct snap and keeper with Jerick McKinnon, which was usually augmented with some sort of motion, as seen below.

While the Wildcat, as a whole, was successful relative to the team’s traditional run game, its usefulness slowed over the team’s final five games, bringing into question how frequently the Vikings will utilize it moving forward.

The final tally on the number of Wildcat attempts was 23, which the Vikings turned into 127 yards, or 5.5 yards per play.

You’ll note two passing attempts on the chart, one of which resulted in a 29-yard defensive penalty, the other an incomplete pass (though as you’ll see below, if McKinnon puts another five yards of air under the ball, Kyle Rudolph likely walks into the end zone).

The other 21 rushing attempts netted 4.7 ypc, an average that would have finished fourth-highest in the NFL behind Buffalo, Cleveland and Dallas. On all other rushing attempts, the Vikings managed just 3.1 ypc.

McKinnon rushed the ball on over half of the attempts (12) and delivered 5.0 ypc, which would translate to seventh in the league individually. He gained 3.3 ypc on all other attempts.

Matt Asiata toted it six times for 26 yards, or 4.3 ypc. He also gained just 3.3 ypc on all other attempts.

Clearly, the bottom line is positive. The Vikings were a league-worst rushing team yet were able to find a wrinkle that delivered results above the league average. That being said, teams may have begun to catch on in the final third of the season; either that, or the Vikings devised less creative looks. From Week 13 on, the Vikings only generated one above-average play with the Wildcat — a Week 17 touchdown run from McKinnon.

The remaining attempts over that stretch created the following gains: 3, 0, 2, 3, 1, 3, 0.

The only detectable difference between Good Wildcat and Bad Wildcat might be the absence of Cordarrelle Patterson in many of the plays. While the Vikings weren’t 100 percent on Wildcat plays when Patterson was in the backfield, he was a critical diversion in a number of the most success attempts, freezing defenders for a split second to free up McKinnon.

Later in the season, the Vikings tended to roll with just McKinnon and Asiata in the backfield, leading to less appealing results. It’s possible that simply the presence of split backs was more imposing than the single-set or empty backfield looks the Vikings used down the stretch.

With Patterson departing for Oakland, the Vikings may be without their greatest Wildcat weapon, even though he only carried the ball once out of the formation all year. Then again, Stefon Diggs or Jarius Wright could likely fill a similar role if called upon.

The Wildcat was a one-hit wonder when offensive line Tony Sparano utilized it in Miami nearly a decade ago. As sparingly as the Vikings used it last season — just 1.5 times per game — it would be surprising to see them retire the package completely, but if the team is able to produce a more effective traditional running game, such gimmicks may not be necessary.

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