The Minnesota Vikings weren’t trying to deceive the New England Patriots on Sunday. In fact, offensive coordinator Norv Turner was pretty straightforward in his offensive game plan.
When the Vikings used three wide receivers, it was safe to assume they were passing, and when they went two-wide, chances are they were running the ball.
The Vikings ran the ball 13 times (for 37 yards) in two-receiver sets and passed just seven times (completing five attempts for 69 yards with a touchdown and sack). When they sent three wide or more, they ran the ball just five times (for 18 yards) and dropped back to pass 34 times, completing 14 attempts for 133 yards with four interceptions and five sacks.
Those splits allowed the Patriots to stick rookie defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who is stronger against the pass, on the field for just one running play — a 4-yard carry.
The Vikings didn’t give wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson a rushing attempt, even after he carried the ball three times for 102 yards with a touchdown. Patterson was content to be a decoy, however.
“I was a decoy during the game, and it paid off a lot,” Patterson said Sunday after the 30-7 loss. “Everybody was focused on (me), and you have (Matt Asiata) wide open on the sideline for a touchdown.”
That did happen — once. After the Vikings’ first offensive drive, however, when they gained 36.9 percent of their total yards, the Patriots had Minnesota’s number for the rest of the game.
The Patriots were less predictable than the Vikings, using 29 different offensive alignments to keep Minnesota off balance. The Patriots ran 17 plays in a three-receiver set and rushed the ball eight times (for 52 yards) and completed four passes on eight passing attempts for 66 yards with a touchdown.
After taking a look at all the Patriots’ offensive and defensive splits, here are some observations:
-The Patriots excelled against the pass in dime, when safety Nate Ebner was on the field. They allowed one catch on seven attempts for 17 yards with an interception and three sacks.
-Easley didn’t record a pass-rush pressure, but he was on the field for five of the Patriots’ six sacks
-The Patriots were successful with Rob Gronkowski on the field, even if he doesn’t look 100 percent yet. They ran the ball nine times for 51 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Tom Brady completed 7 of 12 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown when the big tight end was in the lineup.
-The Patriots ran 26 plays with rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming in a hybrid-tight end role. They ran the ball 23 times for 81 yards and a touchdown and completed 3 of 3 passes for 38 yards.
-The Patriots only used two offensive alignments as many as six times. Each of those alignments came in two-tight end sets. Brady, running back Stevan Ridley, Gronkowski, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, offensive linemen Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Jordan Devey and Sebastian Vollmer, and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell were on the field together six times. Brady, Ridley, fullback James Develin, Hoomanawanui, Fleming, Solder, Cannon, Connolly, Devey, Vollmer and wide receiver Brandon LaFell also took the field together for six plays.
-The Patriots ran 21 plays (13 run, eight pass) in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), five plays in 21 personnel (two run, three pass), 12 plays in 22 personnel (11 run, one pass), one pass in 20 personnel, 16 plays in 11 personnel (eight run, eight pass) and two runs in 23 personnel.
-It’s obvious that the Patriots prefer safety Duron Harmon against the pass, and Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson against the run. Harmon was on the field for 23 plays, and only four came against the run. The Patriots are constantly rotating safeties, but their pass defense looks strong in the first two weeks, so it’s working.