The Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell era kicked off — albeit in their first preseason game — on Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Raiders inside Allegiant Stadium. The offense stalled out for most of the first half, as the Vikings were trailing for essentially the entire game. Free-agent acquisition Harrison Phillips looked sharp in his Purple debut by recording a sack and forcing two minimal gains against the run on Las Vegas’ opening series.
Backup quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond drew most of the headlines from Sunday. But let’s peel back the curtain a bit and break down our first exposure to what Minnesota’s offense will look like under the former Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator.
Before we go any further, let’s review how the Vikings and Rams went about their respective business offensively last year.
- The Rams set an NFL record by lining up in 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three receivers) at an 86% clip.
- Under Klint Kubiak, the Vikings ranked 28th across the NFL last season in 11-personnel frequency at 47%.
- The Rams and Vikings seldom got into 12-personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) last year, ranking 28th and 29th at 13% and 12%.
- The Vikings ranked fifth at 21-personnel frequency last year (two running backs, one tight end, and two receivers) at an 18% clip.
- The Rams were dead-last in 21-personnel, with a whopping one play all of last year with two running backs on the field together.
It should go without saying, but attempting to make sense of what transpires in preseason football might be a bit foolish. After all, NFL head coaches are borderline paranoid about putting their best secrets/concepts on film, which allows 31 other franchises to game plan against it. Conversely, these coaches want to get a good look at the guys competing for roster spots and/or particular roles on the team — such as the QB2 battle between Mannion and Mond. More on this later.
Instead of breaking down the X’s and O’s of preseason game No. 1, we’ll keep the focus on how KOC decided to unveil his offense by his personnel frequencies against the Raiders. In total, the Vikings had seven drives and ran 52 total plays — excluding the kneel down to close out the first half.
11-Personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers)
It didn’t take long for the Vikings to resemble the Rams’ offense under McVay. Minnesota lined up in 11-personnel on 37 out of 52 plays, equating to a substantial 71.2%. For context, the Buffalo Bills ranked fifth in the NFL with a 71% 11-personnel rate last season.
What’s particularly interesting about Minnesota’s 11-personnel usage from Sunday was in goal-to-go situations. The Vikings had six downs in goal-to-go, and the offense lined up in 11-personnel on all six downs.
The expectation is for O’Connell to bring the Vikings towards the top of the league in 11-personnel rate this year. And if Sunday’s preseason was any indication, that’s exactly where the Vikings will be.
Let’s circle back a bit. Remember how I said most NFL coaches are paranoid about putting their best concepts on film in the preseason? On Mond’s final drive, O’Connell didn’t hesitate to dial up one of the Rams’ most effective concepts last year. Below you’ll see one of the Rams’ best man-beaters from last year, which came by way of a slot-fade concept out of empty in 11-personnel.
And here’s Mond connecting with Albert Wilson on this exact same concept, except out of a 3×1 alignment from 11-personnel.
Again, if this preseason game was any indication, O’Connell won’t hesitate to dip into his bag of tricks from his time with the Rams.
12-Personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers)
The next-highest personnel frequency for Minnesota’s offense on Sunday was with two tight ends and two receivers at a 23.1% clip (12 out of 52).
What’s interesting about O’Connell’s 12-personnel packages is that of the 24 occurrences where the Vikings faced first-and-10, the personnel was 12 on 10 of those plays — 41.7% of the time.
O’Connell dialed up a beautiful out-and-up concept inside the red zone from 12-personnel (on first-and-10), only to have Mond miss badly on the throw.
21-Personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two receivers)
Unfortunately for fullback truthers, the Vikings experienced a serious drop-off in this personnel on Sunday. Instead of following Mike Zimmer and his watered-down blueprint of Mike and/or Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, the Vikings more closely resembled the Rams with how little they put a fullback on the field.
Out of 52 plays, the Vikings got into 21-personnel on just three occasions — 5.8%.
The very first play of the game came out of 21-personnel, which predictably resulted in a minimal two-yard gain from Alexander Mattison.
Which begs the question: If the Vikings are essentially going to throw these personnel packages out the window, why are they paying C.J. Ham the second-largest cap hit among fullbacks in the NFL this season at $3.5 million?
From what O’Connell decided to put on film in his preseason debut — including a questionable decision to put a highly-classified concept on film in the final minutes of the fourth quarter in the preseason — it’s sure looking like the Vikings are going to replicate the Rams’ scheme under McVay.
It’ll be interesting to monitor how the offense continues to look throughout the next two preseason games before the bullets start flying against the dreaded Green Bay Packers on Sept. 11 inside US Bank Stadium.