Which McVay Staple Has Kevin O'Connell Kept Under Wraps?

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason is officially in the rearview, and now the Minnesota Vikings can shift their entire focus to Week 1’s matchup against the Green Bay Packers at US Bank Stadium on Sept. 11. Even though most of the starters didn’t play a single snap during the exhibition period, we still learned plenty about what this version of the Vikings’ offense will look like.

After three games, it’s quite obvious that Kevin O’Connell will be running an eerily similar scheme to the one he deployed with the Los Angeles Rams over the past two years while coaching under Sean McVay. Instead of a predictable 21-personnel (one running back, one fullback, one tight end, two wide receivers) on first downs, the base offense for Minnesota will be 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers).

And based on Cooper Kupp‘s Triple Crown achievements last season, we already know this scheme is utterly tantalizing for wide receivers. That is music to Justin Jefferson‘s ears as he embarks on a potentially historic statistical Year 3 in Minnesota.

While we’ve already seen O’Connell unveil some of the Rams’ best concepts from last year in the preseason, there’s still one staple of McVay’s offense that we’ve yet to see.

Since McVay took the Rams’ head coaching job in 2017, his offenses have stood out by consistently putting opposing defenses in conflict horizontally. McVay’s offenses have historically ranked near the top of the league in pre-snap motion rates and have a propensity for relying on jet-motion concepts at the snap.

Since the dawn of the O’Connell era, the go-to catchphrase has been “The Illusion of Complexity.” This slogan has never been more apt than in describing this particular concept. By forcing the defense to account for the horizontal threat, the jet-motion opens up several opportunities to attack opposing defenses. It’s a classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If your defense doesn’t honor the horizontal threat, McVay and his receivers will happily take the edge and pick up the free yardage you’re giving them. And if you decide to properly account for it, this scheme will attack your vulnerability elsewhere.

Notice how both of Indianapolis’ linebackers honor the jet-motion, which creates open field on the backside for the screen.

And it’s not just the receivers that can get in on the fun with these jet motions. Watch how the Rams line up in 11-personnel empty with Todd Gurley split out wide. The sheer threat of Gurley taking the jet-sweep creates so much open field when, once again, both backers decide to over pursue on the jet action. That allows Brandin Cooks to pick up easy yardage on the backside, courtesy of the jet-pass.

And right when you think the jet action is just for attacking the perimeter on the ground or the short passing game, this horizontal threat also creates opportunities to attack defenses vertically. Here, Robert Woods gets horizontal pre-snap on the jet motion and can get vertical on the wheel route for the 56-yard touchdown strike.

For all the acclaim that Rams receivers get for playing in this scheme, it’s important to note that wideouts in this offense are also tasked with blocking out of those condensed 11-personnel splits, in addition to their responsibilities horizontally in the jet game.

Since 2017, McVay’s receivers and tight ends have totaled 175 carries, equating to 35 carries per year. It’s worth mentioning that these carries don’t account for the jet-passes, which are glorified hand-offs that rewards quarterbacks for passing yards. For context, Minnesota’s pass catchers have averaged just six carries per year since 2020.

Does this mean we can expect Jefferson to challenge defenses horizontally with these jet concepts? Possibly. But since he entered the league in 2020, he’s averaging just 2.3 yards per carry on his seven career rushing attempts. Could Jefferson’s horizontal game at the line of scrimmage be greatly improved with the arrival of O’Connell’s scheme? It very well might.

When looking at Minnesota’s existing receiver room, it’s fair to assume that O’Connell may allocate these jet-sweep carries to K.J. Osborn. With his sub-4.5 speed, he’s exactly the type of player who can hurt opposing defenses on the edge if they don’t properly account for the horizontal threat. After all, Robert Woods made a living off these concepts with the Rams, and Osborn performed better than Woods in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, and three-cone drill at their respective NFL combines.

And if defenses do decide to honor the sideline-to-sideline threat, courtesy of Minnesota’s ancillary receiver? Well, that just means they’re exposed elsewhere for Minnesota’s remaining offensive weapons to attack.

If O’Connell and the Vikings truly lean into McVay’s scheme with the Rams, these jet-motion concepts will become the norm once Week 1 rolls around.

Does Za’Darius Smith Need To Be Load-Managed?
By Rob Searles - Dec 6, 2022
The 49ers Are Not Better Than the Vikings
By Chris Schad - Dec 6, 2022

5 Numbers That Tell the Story Of the Vikings-Jets Game

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings fans may just have to accept that this is how the 2022 season is going to go. After the Vikings built a 20-3 lead over […]

Continue Reading