Serious question: Has the NFL ever seen another first-year offensive coordinator that’s been as commonly criticized by his own fanbase as Klint Kubiak? And one who is calling an offense that ranks ninth in points and fourth in yards? I highly doubt it.
While I do my best to try not to speak in generalities, the Vikings fan that is still frustrated with current top-five NFL quarterback Kirk Cousins — Pro Football Focus on Saturday has Cousins as a second-team All-Pro — typically also has an axe to grind with Kubiak. This must be the same guy throwing hissy fits over soft-19s on the blackjack tables at Mystic Lake Casino. But that’s neither here nor there.
Despite a fanbase that’s irrationally annoyed with a top-flight offense, Kubiak is thriving as a first-year play-caller. In June, I wrote about other current NFL offensive play-callers that climbed the coaching ranks through nepotism — Kyle Shannahan, Nathaniel Hackett, Scott Turner, and Brian Schottenheimer — and how they fared in their first seasons calling plays for an NFL offense.
As it stands now, Kubiak will accomplish something that none of those coaches could. He would rank top 10 in both points and yards during his first season of calling plays.
Over the past week, with games at Detroit and home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kubiak has been able to consistently dial up chunk-play opportunities on early downs off of play-action in either 21-personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers) or 12-personnel (one running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers).
Let’s start by taking it back to last Sunday at Detroit. After the offense stalled in the first half, Kubiak cranked up the aggression on early downs in the third quarter when he called a vertical crosser concept for Jefferson off of bootleg action on first down.
Circling back on Thursday night’s home victory against the Steelers, Kubiak didn’t wait until the second half to play the role of aggressor against a Pittsburgh defense that had no answer whatsoever for the Vikings in the opening half. On Minnesota’s first drive with the Vikings facing a second-and-six from Pittsburgh’s 38-yard line, Kubiak dialed up another play-action shot play for Justin Jefferson — this time out of 21-personnel.
Cousins’ throw was just a smidge off the mark for Jefferson into double coverage. But considering the bracket look and the difficulty of the vertical throw, this one can be classified as a “good miss,” as Jefferson was the only player with a realistic chance of coming down with it.
With the Vikings facing a third-and-one in the second quarter, Kubiak decides to go for the jugular. He dials up a 22-personnel deep shot for Jefferson off of play-action. Knowing that his offense will have an extremely high probability of moving the sticks on fourth down if they don’t convert here — which they do with a Cousins sneak on the next play — Kubiak understands that this is as close to a free play as he’s going to get. And a tip of the cap to him for taking advantage when presented with the opportunity.
And while Cousins had a good miss on Kubiak’s first attempted chunk play to Jefferson, this one goes down as a checkmark in the “bad miss” column for Kirky. Jefferson is wide open on this crosser, and the throw simply has to be there whenever you can get your All-Pro receiver with this much space down the field. Jefferson likely makes the safety miss with an on-target throw and begins his Griddy from the five-yard line en route to the end zone — like we saw on his first career touchdown back from Week 3 last season against the Tennessee Titans.
Excellent play-call from Kubiak. Poor execution from Cousins on this particular play.
The third time was the charm for Kubiak, Cousins, and this Vikings offense. Minnesota desperately needed to respond with points because the Steelers were mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter. And facing a first-and-10 from their own 38-yard line, Kubiak dialed up yet another aggressive play-action shot out of 21-personnel. With the single-high safety focused on Jefferson’s crosser, the opportunity was there for the Vikings to take advantage of the one-on-one matchup for K.J. Osborn down the field.
So before you deem it necessary to bitch and moan over the fact that the Vikings’ offense isn’t No. 1 in both points and yards throughout the NFL, keep in mind that this offense is operating at an extremely high level with a first-year offensive coordinator.
And a first-year offensive coordinator that is figuring out ways to manipulate opposing defenses to get his playmakers in space with advantageous matchups. Suppose Minnesota wants to be taken seriously down the stretch of this season. In that case, this level of aggression on early downs will need to become a staple, as this Vikings offense is extremely difficult to defend through the air when opposing defensive coordinators decide to put eight men in the box.
Furthermore, Kubiak needs to be part of the long-term solution for this franchise, regardless of who the head coach is next season. Because this level of production out of first-year coordinators simply doesn’t grow on trees in the National Football League.