MINNEAPOLIS -- The steady hands of Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman paid off Thursday.
Patient in their approach to find the Minnesota Vikings' next offensive coordinator, the two acted quickly when they finally had the chance to meet with Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. They made a swift hire just hours after Philadelphia’s Super Bowl parade and checked off the biggest item on Minnesota’s offseason to-do list.
The sign that the Vikings were willing to wait until after the Super Bowl to speak with one final candidate after conducting four other interviews more than a week ago speaks volumes to how strongly the franchise feels about DeFilippo and what he will bring to Minnesota.
Pat Shurmur left massive shoes to fill when he became the New York Giants' head coach two weeks ago. In finding his replacement, Minnesota made a splash hire with one of the most respected up-and-coming offensive minds in the NFL.
DeFilippo comes to the Vikings at a time when their quarterback picture is muddled with uncertainty. In the coming weeks, he’ll play a role in determining the franchise’s QB for next season -- a move that will strongly determine the success or failure of the Vikings making another run toward the Super Bowl. The promising news among all that ambiguity? DeFilippo brings with him a history to back up the notion that he can get the best out of whichever quarterback he has at his disposal.
Before DeFilippo joined on with the Eagles as the quarterbacks coach, he was the offensive coordinator with Cleveland in 2015. Balancing a duo of Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, DeFilippo’s system yielded an offense that passed for the fourth-most yards in franchise history (4,156) and had the second-best interception percentage in the league (2.0), despite going 3-13.
The Vikings made a conscious choice to go outside of the organization with this hire but must feel assured that the continuity they built on offense in 2017 won’t dissipate any time soon.
One sign that points to their vote of faith in DeFilippo dates back to that 2015 season. For the first time in 29 years, the Browns combined 4,100 passing yards with 1,500 rushing yards. This past year, Minnesota’s stable of running backs rushed for 1,957 yards while Case Keenum threw for a majority of the Vikings’ 3,753 passing yards.
Maintaining that balance is a top priority for the Vikings, especially with the expected return of Dalvin Cook in time for Week 1. DeFilippo will be tasked with making sure Minnesota is as aggressive throwing the ball as it is running it.
In the past two seasons, DeFilippo helped Carson Wentz go from a rookie to MVP-caliber quarterback, setting an Eagles franchise record with 33 touchdowns in 13 games this past season.
What’s arguably his biggest accomplishment, however, was how he prepared Nick Foles to achieve success at the most critical juncture of the season. Taking over for an injured Wentz in Week 14, Foles won three playoff games by completing 72 percent of his passes while throwing six touchdowns to one interception. He also brought Philadelphia its first Super Bowl and won game MVP honors.
How did that production come together in such a short period of time? Simply put, DeFilippo and the Eagles quickly established Foles was not Wentz, shifting concepts within the offense to capitalize on the backup QB’s strengths.
Before Wentz’s injury, Philadelphia’s offense operated off of his ability to make powerful throws and improvise in the pocket. Wentz averaged 9.8 air yards per pass through the first 14 weeks of the season, but the Eagles' offensive philosophy shifted in the playoffs with Foles at the helm.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich are due a lot of credit for stretching the confines of the run-pass option to get the most out of Foles, but it was DeFilippo who served as the installation specialist, helping his quarterback thrive in a system that relies on quick reads and an ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately to receivers on slants.
“He's a great teacher, No. 1," Pederson said of DeFilippo to NJ.com in mid-December. "He understands the offense, he knows what we're trying to get across. He's a great teacher, not only in the classroom, but the drill work and what he puts the quarterbacks through. It's all game-specific drill work and he really does a nice job preparing the guys, the quarterbacks, during the week.”
So can we expect to see a system built around a heavy use of RPOs in Minneapolis next season? If the Vikings re-sign Keenum, how will DeFilippo capitalize off his identity as a running threat like the Eagles did with Wentz? Is there a chance that the Vikings may want to stretch that continuity even further and make a deal to get Foles to Minneapolis to work with his former QB coach? Where might he be able to get the most out of Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford or even someone like Kirk Cousins?
Soon enough, all those questions and more will be answered, and we’ll eventually get an up-close look at DeFilippo’s philosophy in action.
Like the Los Angeles Rams did in hiring Sean McVay and the San Francisco 49ers with Kyle Shanahan, the Vikings landed one of the top young innovative minds on the offensive side of the ball. As Minnesota looks to fulfill its next biggest offseason need, having one of the most respected quarterbacks coaches in the NFL in their corner isn’t a bad place to start.