Kevin Stefanski finally got his shot at becoming the full time OC for the Vikings after being with the Vikings organization since 2006. He had a 3-game sample size as OC after pass-happy John DeFilippo was fired after Week 14 last season. In those three games, Stefanski emulated a lot of what Pat Shurmur does scheme-wise, playing towards players strengths rather than towards set play calling, and using analytics. DeFlippo didn’t do a good job of hiding the bad Kirk Cousins last year, because the offense was really put on Kirk’s shoulders; I think we now know that that’s not ideal for Kirk. It’s best to run the ball, and use that to set up play-action – where Kirk thrives.
Over the past four years, Cousins threw 2.87 more yards per pass on play-action passes than regular passes, which ranks third in that span. He leads all QBs in play-action passer rating since becoming a starter in 2015. Under DeFilippo, Kirk’s play-action percentage was only 18%, which ranked 30th out of 36 QBs. With Stefanski, it was 36.4%, would would’ve ranked #1 last year. Remember, if anyone is good at hiding deficiencies, it’s Stefanski, who was Case Keenum’s QB coach in 2017.
He also didn’t let Kirk sling it in those three games; his attempts/game went down from 40 to 27.3, but threw 6 TDs to 1 INT. While the passing offense will likely be more efficient, this might lead to less volume for both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Diggs caught a TD in each of the last three games, but averaged only 7.7 targets (10.5 previously), while Thielen only averaged 4 targets per game (10.8 previously) – not ideal timing for the fantasy playoffs.
The winner here will probably be Dalvin Cook, assuming he can get his soft tissue injuries in check. The offensive line is still an issue (see 11 posts back), but they definitely made it work during those last three games. If you’re going to keep Cousins in his comfort zone with a ton of play-action, you have to be committed to the run. Running the ball a ton against the Bears probably wasn’t a great idea, which is why they didn’t do it in Week 17, but in Weeks 15 and 16, Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray ran for 299 yards on 59 attempts – about 30 attempts per game, which was in-line with the 31.3 rushing attempts per game Pat Shurmur had in 2017. With Murray likely gone this year, that full load will fall on Cook’s shoulders.
Before Stefanski took over, the Vikings had the least effective run game in the NFL, ranking last in expected points generated per carry. The Vikings threw the ball 61.5% of the time on 1st and 10 with DeFilippo, and in his first game as OC, Stefanski chose to throw the ball 18% of the time in those situations. This led to less pressure on Kirk – in Weeks 15 and 16, Kirk had only 4.5 pressures/game compared to the 14.8 he averaged per game previously. Only 29.1% of Kirk’s drop backs were under pressure compared to 38.7% before that – from 27th best to 4th best.
Cook had an injury-riddled down year – because of it, his ADP will take a hit. Are you going to take a chance on him while his value is slightly lower in 2019?